Social Media in the Egyptian Revolution: Reconsidering Resource Mobilization Theory

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International Journal of Communication 5 (2011), Feature 1207–1224

1932–8036/2011FEA1207

Social Media in the Egyptian Revolution: Reconsidering Resource Mobilization Theory NAHED ELTANTAWY JULIE B. WIEST
High Point University

This article seeks to open dialogue about the utility of resource mobilization theory in explaining social movements and their impact by exploring the use of social media in the 2011 Egyptian revolution through a limited case study analysis. It argues that social media played an instrumental role in the success of the anti-government protests that led to the resignation of the country’s dictatorial leader, and calls for further examination of the proposed incorporation of social media as an important resource for collective action and the organization of contemporary social movements.

New communication technologies—especially social media via the Internet— have become important resources for the mobilization of collective action and the subsequent creation, organization, and implementation of social movements around the world. The development of social media created opportunities for Web-fueled social movements, or cyberactivism, to change the landscape of collective action. Cyberactivism is a growing field of scholarly inquiry, though it is not yet well understood, and it is largely lacking a clear, cohesive direction. Langman (2005) argues that computer-savvy activists use the Internet to initiate and organize a broad spectrum of dissention activities, including consumer boycotts and public protests and demonstrations. Numerous scholars, in fact, have pointed to new communication technologies— particularly social media like short messaging services (SMS), social-networking sites, and blogs—as being, collectively, an important new resource for the successful organization and implementation of social movements (e.g., Della Porta & Mosca, 2005; Langman, 2005; O’Lear, 1999; Wasserman, 2007). Social media technologies have been used especially in organizing and implementing collective activities, promoting a sense of community and collective identity among marginalized group members, creating less-confined political spaces, establishing connections with other social movements, and publicizing causes to gain support from the global community. Prominent cyberactivism movements include antiwar, anti-globalization, and global justice movements. In the Iraqi antiwar movement, activists’ use of the Internet to communicate, coordinate, Copyright © 2011 (Nahed Eltantawy, neltanta@highpoint.edu; Julie B. Wiest, jwiest@highpoint.edu). Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives (by-nc-nd). Available at http://ijoc.org.

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International Journal of Communication 5 (2011)

and create awareness among decentralized networks resulted in global protests that brought together about 10 million activists who demonstrated in hundreds of cities worldwide on February 15, 2003 (Cortright, 2007). The 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) protest in Seattle marked the beginning of the global justice cyber movement (Juris, 2008; Kahn & Kellner, 2005; Lievrouw, 2011), and new communication technologies became the vehicle that brought together the tens of thousands of protesters who confronted WTO delegates (Lievrouw, 2011). The Internet also has enabled the creation of diverse democratic groups and movements, such as the World Social Forum, which mobilized global justice movements of more than 100,000 diverse activists in Brazil in 2003, and in Mumbai in 2004 (Langman, 2005). In addition to supporting political and social movements in more conventional ways—by providing opportunities for political expression, symbolic identification for collective actors, and information exchange—new communication technologies may serve a novel instrumental function. In their examination of the anti-G8 protest in Genoa in 2001 and the European Social Forum in...
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