“Arab Spring & Syria” @ Dyroy Soton DTC seminar: The text.

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DYROY Web Science DTC Seminar 2012, Set. 9.

(Introductory text by Stéphane Bazan, UIR Web Science on Web and Arab Spring)

« There have been lots of talk on the role played by online social media in the Arab Spring that took place in Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt and Syria. I don’t want to go too deeply into the subject, I just want to raise a few questions, that should interest web science.

First: Is the Web a « liberation technology » ? Do these technologies change the balance of power between repressive states and civil society ?

Then : Have repressive states become more increasingly savvy in regulating the impact of the information revolution ?

To help us on this, lets’go back to the concept of co-constitution presented in the now famous Manifesto for Web Science: The Web shapes society and society shapes the Web. In case of online mobilization, one of the most powerful feature of the Web is it’s flexibility. This flexibility match our social capabilities then coordinating action becomes faster, which gives a clear advantage « on the ground » for protesters. This is an example of how the web, as a machine, impacts a real world situation. This was deeply explained by Clay Shriky.

Another example is the one that was presented at the WS conference in june : An Web-savvy regime can use the web as a very effective repression tool. The syrian electronic army that was created to counter-attack online protest in Syria is using the same Web channels as we do everyday to check our friends profiles or korean music videos. Many people were identified, arrested, tortured and killed after deceptive content was uploaded on social media sites by the regime electronic army. Now, we raised the following question : is the web a safe place ? And a question for Web science : how do we make it a safer place?

The recent events surrounding usage of web technologies to spread anti-muslims video show also that the Web, as a free-speech decentralized and open space, could lead to dreadful events. Who should bear the responsability for this ?

Back to the Arab spring, we really have to be careful: young arabs use the Web as an information tool. They read, they learn and they adapt. The web shapes the society. But it’s not because they act like you or dance like you or protest like you that they think like you. The context plays a very important part in understanding the impact of the Web. This is why, maybe, the outocome of online protests in the arab world doesn’t really look like what was expected in terms of democracy or free speech or mutual understanding.

Web users are also people, real people, with personal stories, motivation, backgrounds. The web is the same for eveybody, but each user has a different experience with it. This is where Web Science begins. »

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