“Facebook used to set the date, Twitter used to share logistics, YouTube to show the world, all to connect people” Anon 2011
The Arab Spring was widely reported as the Twitter and Facebook revolution. Sultan al-Qassemi, a freelance columnist from Sharjah, one of the Emirates, watched his number of Twitter followers grow from 7,000 at the start of 2011 to 85,000 this year by translating Arabic news to English via Twitter. He is one of many who believe that “social media was a tool, a mobiliser, a conduit” during the Arab Spring.
The role of social media in the dissemination of information and opinion was seen as having been invaluable to the countries’ revolutions. In Libya and Tunisia, where press has been subject to government control, social media was regarded as a liberating tool, as a landscape and a means through which democracy was enhanced and fostered.
According to statistics collated by internetworldstats.com, which draws data from studies conducted by Nielsen, an audience measurement system, in March 2010 there were 3.6 million internet users in Tunisia: 33.9% of the population, up from 9.3% in 2006. This rapid explosion in internet use meant that the uprising in Tunisia and the subsequent revolution in Libya were heavily narrated through social media.
Such frontline reporting has become a crucial source for news networks. Al Jazeera journalist D. Parvaz says social media is how events are now chronicled.
“This might well be the first time that people living under autocratic rule have managed to document their struggles and movement on almost the most micro level imaginable.”
Mohammed Nabbous, who founded and ran Libya al-Hurra TV came to be seen as the face of citizen journalism in Libya. Killed in a firefight in March, Nabbous has since been posthumously awarded the Louis M. Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism. Speaking at the 2011 Personal Democracy Forum, a senior strategist at National Public Radio, Andy Carvin underlined the indispensability of Mohammed Nabbous and others like him: “they have provided a service, not only for their country, but for the rest of us, to show how a group of people, with no media training whatsoever, can become the voices of their country”.
Yet finding authoritative voices on Twitter can be a complicated task. With over 300 million users around the world it can be hard to determine truth from rumour; fact from fiction.
By searching through relevant hash tags on Twitter, it is possible to delve into group conversations and begin to identify communities of likeminded individuals rallying around a subject or cause. Assembled below is a (necessarily incomplete) collection of key Libyan and Tunisian tweeters and bloggers whose voices broke through during the Arab Spring, and continue to narrate developments throughout the Middle East. They have been chosen on the basis of three primary criteria; critical mass of interest including followers, re-tweets and topping organic search in Google; recognition within mainstream media; and acknowledgement across the spectrum of social media.
With over 46, 000 followers, and up to the minute tweets, The Libyan Youth Movement provide a great insight into Libyan youth pre and post revolution.
Ismael Zmirli uses Facebook to complement his Twitter account, which steers clear of “conspiracy theorists, tyranny and nonsense”.
Based in Benghazi, this tweeter describes himself as “A Libyan on a quest to find freedom…”
With leaks used by Reuters, this tweeter is a valuable front line source.
This group tweeted news from inside Libya until the first week of March. Thereafter they started using witnesses from inside Libya.
Houssem Hajlaoui is a blogger for Nawaat, an award winning collective blog created in April 2004 and blocked in Tunisia until 13 January 2011.
Sami Ben Gharbia is the Advocacy Director of Global Voices, a website that collates citizen media stories from around the world. Gharbia is also the Co-Founder of Nawaat.
Amel Boussetta is active on Facebook and Twitter, but is most applauded for her blog ‘Tunisian Chronicles and Beyond’, which focuses on the Tunisian political scene, offering up-to-date reporting and analysis of events.
Lina Ben Mhenni, known as A Tunisian Girl was awarded The Best Blog Award by Germany’s International Broadcaster Deutsche Welle earlier this year.
Born in Iowa, but “a witness, if not a participant” in the Tunisian revolution, Erik Churchill’s blog ‘A 21st Century Social Contract’ presents thoughts on freedom and the social contract in post-revolutionary Tunisia.