The rise of social media made a set of online tools for revolution readily available and accessible to the largest demographic in the Middle East — youth. Put a powerful tool of communication in the hands of a handful of highly motivated, highly educated activists with the potential to reach the largest and most important demographic of the society and add to it the spark of what happened in Tunisia — and you have the perfect storm.
There is no doubt that social media played a major role in the recent revolts but equally looking at the current events unfolding there are clear indicators that social media will only ever be a tool of organising. The streets are the place where revolutions can create facts on the ground.
In his 1993 bestseller The Magic Lantern, Timothy Garton Ash, one of the most acute observers of the 1989 revolutions, proclaimed that “in Europe at the end of the 20th century, all revolutions are telerevolutions” – but in retrospect, the role of television in those events seems like a very minor point.
Will history consign Twitter and Facebook to much the same fate 20 years down the road? In all likelihood, yes. The current fascination with technology-driven accounts of political change in the Middle East is likely to subside…