Sign of the times (Courtesy of Concrete Playground)

It would probably come a shock to no one, that the media has a vested interest in assessing the value of, well, the media. The media, as to be expected, wants to stake their claim to history. The media places a certain emphasis on the effect of an entity’s role in a historical moment. Consider, for instance, the purported influence of Facebook on the Jasmine Revolution and Arab Spring. In their blog Democracy in America, the Economist cites a study from the Dubai School of Government, that measured Facebook’s online “penetration”, the percentage of a countries’ population that uses Facebook, across all the countries in the Middle East.

The Jasmine Revolution (Courtesy of Disney 2 Go)

Libya’s Facebook penetration was a paltry 3.74%, Egypt’s was at 5.49%, and Tunisia was slightly higher at 17.55%. This is not to say that Facebook has no effect on the Arab Spring; The Economist goes so far as to offer this caveat: “while these media [Facebook and the like] may have helped [mobilize] a core group, traditional word-of-mouth and al-Jazeera television played a much bigger role.” This raises the question, of how much influence social media has on protests like the Jasmine Revolution or Occupy Wall Street.

In an Op-ed piece in the New York Times, Roger Cohen observed that “Internet freedom is no panacea. Authoritarian regimes can use it to identify dissidents; they can try to suppress Facebook. But it’s empowering to the repressed, humiliated and distant — and so a threat to the decayed Arab status quo.” So Cohen offered that authoritarian regimes can use Facebook in a Big Brother sort of way, by being able to link specific dissidents to the rebellion, a tactic that wasn’t available prior to Facebook. But certainly, it would be easy to argue that Facebook has aided the Arab Spring. Media outlets, like Newsweek, have referred to the rebellion as “Egypt’s Facebook Revolution“. A man in Egypt was so ecstatic about the site, and its effect on the Spring, that he named his son “Facebook”.

The Economist disagrees with the notion that the Arab spring was primarily effected by the Internet, claiming that Occupy Wall Street is “the world’s first genuine social-media uprising”. They cited as a sort of social-media barometer, the group’s Facebook following, tweets and hash-tags, their website, and a Tumblr blog entitled “We Are the 99 Percent“, which tells stories of those directly effected by the recession. Victims of the economy write their situations on a sheet of paper and upload a picture of it to this Tumblr blog. And, with the global reach of the internet, these victims gain an equal voice and equal platform to express on paper what are, effectively, signs of the times.

Sign of the times (Courtesy of We Are the 99 Percent)