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Social media’s part in the 2011 Egyptian uprising: not as important as often claimed

by Kim Luke — Wednesday, Sep 03, 2014


There’s been some debate among researchers and journalists about the extent to which social media Facebook, Twitter and text messages stimulated unrest in the 2011 Egyptian uprising.

A new study by Robert Brym and four PhD students Melissa Godbout, Andreas Hoffbauer, Gabe Menard, and Tony Huiquan Zhang in the University of Toronto’s Department of Sociology, suggests social media’s role was not as significant as some have suggested.

“We found that new electronic communications media played a secondary role in the uprising,” said Brym. “While they certainly helped activists extend protest networks, express outrage, organize events, and warn comrades of real-time threats, they were also a low-cost, low-risk means of involvement that attracted many sympathetic onlookers who were not prepared to engage in high-risk activism,” said Brym.

“The main factors distinguishing demonstrators from sympathetic onlookers was the depth of the demonstrators’ grievances, their availability especially if they were single, male, urban residents and their previous connections to charitable and other voluntary associations, that is, previous activism of some kind.”

Their findings, based on a 2011 survey conducted in Egypt by the Gallup Organization, are reported in the current issue of the British Journal of Sociology.