The Arab Spring and Social Media Audiences: English and Arabic Twitter Users and Their Networks
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Although popular media narratives about the role of social media in driving the events of the 2011 "Arab Spring" are likely to overstate the impact of Facebook and Twitter on these uprisings, it is nonetheless true that protests and unrest in countries from Tunisia to Syria generated a substantial amount of social media activity. On Twitter alone, several millions of tweets containing the hashtags #libya or #egypt were generated during 2011, both by directly affected citizens of these countries and by onlookers from further afield. What remains unclear, though, is the extent to which there was any direct interaction between these two groups (especially considering potential language barriers between them). Building on hashtag data sets gathered between January and November 2011, this article compares patterns of Twitter usage during the popular revolution in Egypt and the civil war in Libya. Using custom-made tools for processing "big data," we examine the volume of tweets sent by English-, Arabic-, and mixed-language Twitter users over time and examine the networks of interaction (variously through @replying, retweeting, or both) between these groups as they developed and shifted over the course of these uprisings. Examining @reply and retweet traffic, we identify general patterns of information flow between the English- and Arabic-speaking sides of the Twittersphere and highlight the roles played by users bridging both language spheres. © 2013 SAGE Publications.
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