Images have a semiotic density quite different from that of words,
So if “a picture is worth a thousand words” how many tweets is it worth? And is the value different when you are trying to incite collective action?
Tamara Kharroub and Ozen Bas of the University of Indiana ask these questions about the Egyptian revolution of 2011. Claiming that “the role of social media in political activism has received much attentionin recent years [but] the role of social media images remains largely understudied” they seek to fill this lacunae by looking at images circulated via Twitter.
To be precise, they ask three questions:
- What are the most dominant visual themes (in terms of emotionally arousing and efficacy-eliciting content) in the Twitter images posted during Egypt’s 2011 revolution?
Does the content of images (emotionally arousing vs efficacy-eliciting) varyacross the different phases of the Egyptian revolution?
Does user information (user role, gender, and location) predict the number ofretweets an image receives?
The authors use retweets to seek answers to these questions, arguing that:
In Twitter, retweets are commonly accepted as measures of the attention a message
receives and the popularity of a tweet… Retweets are also useful indicators of the influence of an image because they are a simple, common way of demonstrating people’s interest in content and its reach… We seek to investigate the relationship between the content of an image and the total number of times the image is retweeted. We, therefore, hypothesize the following: Emotionally arousing images (containing violence) will be retweeted more than efficacy-eliciting images (containing crowds, protest activities, and uniting symbols).
- Almost half of the images contained protest activities (41.00%), 35.00% of images contained crowds, and about a third of the images (31.50%) contained national and religious symbols. In contrast to these efficacy-eliciting themes, only 16.70% of all images contained violence. In sum, images showed overwhelmingly more efficacy-related content (crowds, protest activities, and uniting symbols) than emotionally arousing content (violence).
images posted by users in Egypt contained significantly less violence than images posted by users in other Arab countries and images posted by users in non-Arab countries. Images posted by users in Egypt, and in other Arab countries contained significantly more crowds than those posted by users in non-Arab countries. These patterns show that overall images posted by users located in Egypt (which make up 55.4% of users) contained more efficacy-eliciting and less emotionally arousing content than image posted elsewhere
images posted during the height of the protests contained more violent contentthan the period after Mubarak’s resignation, contained more images of crowds compared to the period after the revolution and more images displaying protest activities than the period after Mubarak’s resignation. On the other hand, images containing national and religious symbols were posted significantly more after Mubarak’s resignation than during the times of protests
Here’s the abstract:
Whereas the role of social media in political activism has received much attention in recent years, the role of social media images remains largely understudied. Given the potential of emotional and efficacy-related visual content for motivating activism, this exploratory content analysis examined the content of Twitter images of the 2011 Egyptian revolution. The analysis of 581 images revealed more efficacy-eliciting (crowds, protest activities, national and religious symbols) than emotionally arousing (violent) content, especially posted by Egyptian users. However, emotionally arousing content decreased, whereas efficacy-eliciting content increased at times of instability. Furthermore, popularity of images was more associated with user information than the content itself. Images posted by activists and users outside Egypt received the most attention. The findings are discussed in terms of possible explanations for the content patterns and their potential impact on Twitter audience, as well as their contributions toward establishing a theory of user-generated content during political movements.
Kharroub, Tamara and Ozen Bas. 2016. Social media and protests: An examination of Twitter images of the 2011 Egyptian revolution. New Media & Society 18(9):1973-1992
CALL FOR PAPERS
Arab Media & Society, the biannual journal of the Kamal Adham Center for Television and Digital Journalism in the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the American University in Cairo is seeking submissions for our next issue on “Media and Culture”. Broadly, topics may relate to any area of culture including but not limited to art, music, literature, film, television, comics, and popular culture. Possible subtopics and themes may include:
- Censorship and creative resistance
- Social media and popular culture
- Depiction, perception, and cross cultural influence
- Children and youth media and Arab culture
- New trends in music and dance
- Arab cinema
- The economics of art
- The politics of art
- Art and nationalism
- Cultural manifestations of social inequality
- Art in exile and the creative diaspora
- Regional conflict and its impact on the arts
- Culture and violence
- Private/public sponsorship and agenda setting
- Cultural phenomena and the social impact of art
- Underground arts in the Arab world
- Cultural evolution and new media
Submissions for peer-review consideration should be received by October 25, 2016. All other submissions should be received by November 15, 2016.
We also welcome research and narrative writing; analysis and reviews of reports, policy, laws, and regulations; conference reports; and book and film reviews. Contributions can address any aspect of the intersection between media, politics, society and culture, and relate to the Arab world or its diaspora. While we encourage shorter pieces, submissions may be up to 10 000 words, including footnotes, and should conform to The Chicago Manual of Style.
Send articles and ideas to Sarah El-Shaarawi, Managing Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are going to be in London next month–Nov. 17, to be precise–you might want to drop in on a panel at the London Middle East Institute entitled “Revolutionary Egypt: Four Years On.”
It’s a book launch for the book Revolutionary Egypt: Connecting Domestic and International Struggles (Routledge, 2015), in which I have a chapter.
I won’t be there, but you’ll hardly miss me because many more brilliant people will be there, including:
The event will be held in the Khalili Lecture Theater in the Russell Square College Buildings of the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). It begins at 5:30 and ends at 7:00 PM.
Yesterday, after a lecture on ethnographic fieldwork, a student came up to me to discuss the anthropological concepts of ethnocentrism and relativism, which were first raised in an on-line lecture on the anthropological perspective, and then again yesterday in my discussion of methodology.
“What does an anthropologist do,” the student asked, “when you encounter a society that doesn’t recognize its own problems. For example, what if a society is oppressed, but doesn’t recognize that they are oppressed?”
I wondered if he was speaking of the United States, but it turned out he was thinking of–you guessed it–the Middle East.
If you ask people in the Middle East if they want democracy, they will say yes, he asserted. But if you ask them specific questions about each of the defining principles of democracy, they don’t actually want them.
“For example, if you ask them if they want gender equality, they’ll tell you no,” he said.
“What if instead of asking them whether they want gender equality, you were to ask them what they mean by democracy?” I asked.(And yes, I recognize the problem of his ready characterization of a monolithic “they” but…one thing at a time.)
“It seems to me that any definition of democracy must have gender equality as a fundamental component,” he replied
“Of course it seems that way to you,” I said. “You get to define democracy, and then you get to determine who fits your definition. That is exactly what the lecture refers to as ethnocentrism.”
“al-salaatu khayrun min al-nawm.” (prayer is better than sleep)
Except (perhaps) in the Nile Delta governorate of Beheira, where the muezzin of a mosque is accused of substituting “al-facebook” for al-nawm.
And why not? With 16 million accounts, Egypt is one of the top 20 countries for Facebook use–and number one in the Middle East.
The usual phrase, part of the dawn adhan only, is aimed at encouraging believers to get up and pray. Did the muezzin engage in a little wordplay, aimed at getting people off their early morning Facebook habit?
The Egyptian state religious authority suspended the muezzin in late August, not because the statement isn’t true, but because one is not allowed to introduce variations into the call to prayer.
If the story is true, it may be part of a broader pattern through which people find playful ways to negotiate tensions between conflicting social and cultural expectations where pre-existing religious and new social practices coexist.