Author Archive

Opening Closed Regimes: What Was the Role of Social Media During the Arab Spring?

| Sunday, September 11th, 2011 | Comments Off

After analyzing over 3 million tweets, gigabytes of YouTube content and thousands of blog posts, a new study finds that social media played a central role in shaping political debates in the Arab Spring.  Conversations about revolution often preceded major events on the ground, and social media carried inspiring stories of protest across international borders.

Focused mainly on Tunisia and Egypt, this research included creating a unique database of information collected from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.  The research also included creating maps of important Egyptian political Websites, examining political conversations in the Tunisian blogosphere, analyzing more than 3 million Tweets based on key-words used, and tracking which countries thousands of individuals Tweeted from during the revolutions.  The result is that for the first time we have evidence confirming social media’s critical role in the Arab Spring.

The contributors include Philip Howard, Muzammil Hussain, Will Mari, and Marwa Mazaid at the University of Washington, Deen Freelon at American University, and Aiden Duffy at Amazon Web Services.

Download Report Now (click HERE)

Howard on KUOW’s The Conversation

| Wednesday, October 6th, 2010 | No Comments »

Project Director Phil Howard was interviewed on KUOW’s The Conversation today.  He spoke about the pITPI project, Gladwell’s argument against the notion of a Twitter Revolution, and the Digital Origins of Democracy book.  Free copies of the book went to people who pledged during the pledge drive that hour.

More info and link to the podcast:  KUOW – The Conversation.

Sample Chapters for “Digital Origins”

| Tuesday, August 24th, 2010 | No Comments »

The book, Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy:  Information Technology and Political Islam, is one of the outcomes of NSF support for our work.  The book is published with Oxford University Press using a Creative Commons license.

The first three chapters are available now, and others come available they will appear here:

Prologue: Revolution in the Middle East Will Be Digitized

Introduction: Political Communication and Contemporary Muslim Media Systems

Chapter 1: Evolution and Revolution, Transition and Entrenchment

The references used for the book are also available in the bibliographies section of the project website.

The paperback is available from bookstores and Amazon.

UW Press Release on “Digital Origins”

| Tuesday, August 24th, 2010 | No Comments »

The University of Washington has done a press release on the new book, Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy:  Information Technology and Political Islam.

View the press release.

In addition, the press has prepared a two page book announcement with the table of contents and blurbs about the book.

View the book announcement.

Information Sanctions on Iran?

| Saturday, March 6th, 2010 | No Comments »

In a digital era, one of the unintended consequences of economic sanctions could be information sanctions. If the UN is to proceed with economic sanctions against Iran, there are good reasons to craft a policy that still permits communication across national borders.

In even the most authoritarian regimes, digital media can provide a space in which civic conversations can take place.  Information sanctions would disproportionately effect civil society leaders, opposition political parties, and tech-savvy youth.  Cutting off networks of communication might actually help regimes prevent information leaks and “whistle blowers” from embarrassing the regime.  Recall that part of what enraged many Iranians last summer was the online publication of Interior Ministry memos about irregular ballot counting processes.

New information technologies are profoundly reshaping political culture. Twenty-first–century civil society relies upon the Internet and other communication devices for its infrastructure, and for a digital “safe harbor” in which civic conversations can incubate. This is especially true in countries where the national print and broadcast media are heavily censored. In short, technology has empowered new and vital means of political communication and acclimated citizens to democratic thought and action.

Here is what we do know about the role of digital media in contemporary Iranian politics:

  1. Iranians have increased international content in their news diets.
  2. Family and friends like to employ Twitter, Facebook, and Orkut networks in their communications, independent of direct state control.
  3. Civil society actors have flourished online — even when the state has cracked down domestically.
  4. Women are drawn into cyberspace discourse in ways not always available in “real” space.

Economic sanctions often have unfortunate consequences for the poorest citizens in a target regime.  If we aren’t careful, sanctions might also have an impact on civil society groups and mainstream political parties.  Just as last summer’s denial of service attacks against the Iranian government also affected civil society groups, economic sanctions could have the deleterious impact of weakening the country’s moderate voices.

In countries where political parties are illegal or restricted, digital networks are actually more important, because they provide the most independent infrastructure for political communication.

US Congress FY 2010 Omnibus Bill: U.S. Policy in the Middle East… As Reflected in Spending Priorities

| Tuesday, January 5th, 2010 | No Comments »

The omnibus bill passed by the US Congress in December includes significant amounts of funding for economic support and financing foreign militaries.  Here is a run down of the budgets, by country.  There are some significant funds for “democracy, human rights, and governance programs” in Egypt ($25m), Iraq ($126m), and several additional pockets of funds for similar activities in other countries.  Interestingly, internet infrastructure is part of this diplomatic outreach, with a

$20 million global effort “to expand unmonitored, uncensored access to the Internet for large numbers of users living in closed societies that have acutely hostile Internet environments, including in the People’s Republic of China and Iran.”  This suggests that this $10 million will be used to expand internet access in Iran.