After humiliation and despair, what took Mohamed Bouazizi years to establish was taken in minutes. The corrupt police took everything and left him with no way to pay his creditors or to support his family. In order to combat this Mohamed took his battle to the provincial headquarters were he was denied access. He felt dejected and the only way to be heard was by self-immolation. Even though he was not the first to take this route, he was the one that was loved by the community, Hajlaoui Jaafer a close friend of Mohamed said, “”What really gave fire to the revolution was that Mohamed was a very well-known and popular man. He would give free fruit and vegetables to very poor families.”‘ After hearing about what happened the people took ‘”a rock in one hand, a cell phone in the other,” according to Rochdi Horchani – a relative of Mohamed Bouazizi.”
The people of Tunisia took to social media to try to organize and create a movement, but the hurdle they came across was the strict censorship the government had in place. Luckily, the people were smart and started to use web proxies to bypass the censorship, but the fight was just starting, as the government and its loyalists reactivated their Facebook and started to track down those that threatened the political power. Even through the fear and censorship, the people were able to prevail and the protesters flexed their muscles and were able to over-throw the 23-year President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in just 10 days, after Mohamed had passed away. Rather poetic, don’t you think?
In terms of public relations and use of social media, President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, was notified of the immolation of Mohamed but did not visit him until two weeks after. Not only was that too long, but the picture taken had the complete opposite effect that President Zine el was going for. This is a prime example of public relation wreckage, they were not earnest in helping Mohamed and only when things really started to get bad is when they decided to try and derail the movement. Timing is everything in social media and public relations, something the Tunisian government had no comprehension about.
This started on December 17, 2010 and the Arab Spring is still having a significant influence into today. Aljazeera has a great timeline of the effects that this had and is continually tracking the movement that this single movement has had throughout the mid-east. Social media is continually adding fire to the movement and the people of the Mid-East are seeing this as a very productive tool to help organize and mobilize their cause. I believe that social media can hit its target a lot more precise than any rock, gun, or grenade can ever do. Even though, Mohamed did not realize what he was starting, he did, however, wake up the majority of the Mid-East to the full potential that social media can have. “The potential of social media lies mainly in their support of civil society and the public sphere.”
On the other side, not everything is productive in the use of social media. As I mentioned before, the Tunisian government and their loyalists could also use social media to monitor, track, and organize those that defied the order. Another point is that social media companies are not always as transparent and open as people would hope, in an article about the Arab Springs, Thomas Sander mentioned, “Disappointingly, Twitter and Google have also agreed to help the Syrian government and other oppressive regimes by enforcing rules that censor tweets or blog posts in Syria by blocking them out within-country.” This also is telling that if governments have the ability to regulate certain aspects of social media and the ability to regulate internet speeds, it is also making it so the information being spread can be easily manipulated or stopped. What then will happen if the people lose their voice? What other outlets are there to network and share meaningful information? With the government having this much potential over the internet, who’s to say that they aren’t secretively starting a ‘misinformation campaign’ against other governments or against their own people?
My feeling are as social media continues to evolve and integrate with our lives, I can see a future that even with some level of government control, we will still have the power to disseminate the truth and network with people that we know and trust. Thanks to Mohamed Bouazizi and many others, they have opened the people’s eyes and we are now able to see the limitless potential of social media and the impact it can have both locally and internationally.
Twitter: #arabspring, #bouazizi, #sidibouzid, #tunisia.