Graphing the Arab Spring

I cannot think of a better time to be a student of Middle Eastern politics and history. Revolutions are relatively rare phenomena, and successful ones are understandably even more so. I have had the opportunity to witness and study 4 successful regime changes, an ongoing genocidal civil war, several failed and crushed rebellions, and several regimes that have quickly adapted to stave off rebellion. Due to the amazing networks we have available to us, I am able to observe events in almost real time through twitter and facebook, in a revolution or civil war, on the other side of the planet. This gives a student amazing access to the official, the unverified, and the propaganda, versions of the same story. 

I took this class in order to gain the tools and analytic mindset to further my research into the wave of change known as the Arab Spring. My goal is to answer several questions about successful and unsuccessful civil unrest, and I want to include Twitter and Facebook data to help me understand the structure, or lack thereof, of the revolutions. 

However, someone has beaten me to it. Several professors at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA. have mined Twitter data and “we generated a user-by-user network where a direct tie was drawn between two users if one of the users sent a message to the other, or a user retweeted the message of another. In the case of the latter, we drew a tie from the author of the original message to the user who “retweeted” the message. In the end, our user-by-user network included 196,670 users with 526,976 ties between them.” They chose two days worth of data, the day when the movement gained rapid momentum in Egypt, known as the “Friday of Anger”,  and another day shortly before the fall of the regime. 

They used an algorithm to identify clusters within the data, and one of the surprising results was a fake Hosni Mubarak account. “Using betweenness centrality to identify potentially influential nodes within this cluster, we discovered that a Hosni Mubarak parody account was quite central, and speculated that its tweets may have been influential in the framing of grievances during the Egyptian Revolution. By portraying the real Hosni Mubarak as corrupt and unwilling to give up power, it may have helped create or further a negative public perception of the Egyptian president.”

I hope to use similar methods to help me answer questions about the structure of civil unrest.

2 thoughts on “Graphing the Arab Spring”

  1. My Political Science Capstone paper was on the Iranian Protest Movement in 2009 and the use of Social Media and Mobile Technology. The Iranian protest is often cited as the start of the Arab Spring, with the use of new technology in dissent spilling over from Persia into the Arab world. The use of networks to build up anti-establishment sentiment in oppressive regimes has been dramatic including the ability of global sympathizers to assist by seeding anti-surveillance software and providing proxy servers.
    The one part where I disagreed with the conventional wisdom in Iran was that social media was the new way to protest. It turns out that Iran had one of the most advanced telecommunications surveillance systems in the world, and that the dependance on social media actually hindered the protest movements.
    That being said, Egypt is not Iran. I think that it can and has proven to have much greater impact in the Arab world where the Iranian-styled surveillance infrastructure was not in place.

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