Tuesday, 5 February 2013

#Bahrain, democracy and the web

On 6th of Feburary 2013 we have seen one of the highest twitter levels near Budaiya High way we have ever seen.  50% of the tweets from this area use the word حوار dialogue.  Lots of political discussion going on.

Massive tweeting coming from Bahrain on February 6th 2013.
In 2011 I wrote an analysis of the protests in Bahrain, at that time my conclusion was that the protests had established, in part online and in public forums, key elements that any successful long term social movement needed:
  • Level of engagement, are enough people involved?
  • Level of social network among members, are the people working together?
  • Level of identity formation of members, do the people really see this as their cause?
I base these conclusions on this social media trends:
  • Consistently high tweeting in Bahrain, indicating a great deal of chatter during the time of protests.
  • Drill down of these tweets show a great deal of 'discourse' with people mentioning each other and RT each other.
  • Many political avatars and posts active in Bahrain.
  • Willingness of people to post with geo-locations turned on.
  • The content on twitter with hashtags popular with Bahrain protest members like Feb14 and Lulu (Lulu since has dropped by Feb14 and Bahrain stay active)

Since that time protests in Bahrain have lost much of the international attention, in part because of a crack down and in part because of a global disillusionment with the Arab Spring as an event. But this does not mean that social media has become unengaged in Bahrain.  Which has not happened. 

My conclusion is, from continued study of the social media content, is that despite extensive repression by the state, including the symbolic destruction of Lulu square, and the intervention of major outside players trying to support the monarchy, like Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom, that the network of people engaging in reform has if anything expanded and become more locally effective.
My principle tool of research has been twitter and Facebook.  I have joined a number of Facebook groups on Bahrain and for over a year now have been watching their activity.  I have noticed these trends:
  • A movement of the issue from International to local.
  • Continuing high presence of protests.
  • A growing diminishing of support for the regime on social media. 
There is still a massive churn of discussion on Twitter about #Bahrian  Tweets contain a vast number of political posts, and many profiles show strong alliances to reform or the Regime.

Alwafaq News from Bahrain posts information on protest, a very popular Facebook page it rarely posts in English. 

What I think is happening is that social media is now supporting the face to face.  This is interesting idea.  Normally we assume that social media is destroying the strength of face to face community, but in  many cases it may be the other way around.  A local community or movement like Occupy may come back as a surprising social community after existing for a time online, as when OccupyWallStreet became OccupySandy.

Social Media contains so much evidence of a mass movement taking place in Bahrain it is hard to understand the lack of coverage in many media
In Bahrain it seems that social media is still a key part in supporting a mostly local effort at reform.

This tool will enable you to track tweets and retweets originating from Manama Bahrain. Even in translation it is striking how much discussion is about politics.

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