Friedman Questions #SocialMedia in the #ArabSpring

Perhaps NY Times star columnist Thomas Friedman reads Netopia, but then again maybe not. In any case, he now joins in doubting the role of social media in the Arab Spring. For Netopia’s readers, it is no news that there were many more important factors than technology (and most people on Tahrir Square did not have internet access in the first place), as Mariam Kirollos has demonstrated. The myth of the social media revolution lives strong, yesterday I listened to a talk by an executive from Al-Jazeera who made this notion part of his speech. But while Kirollos’s point is that the revolution was driven by bigger forces – the people demanded bread, freedom and social justice – Friedman’s view is more techno-centric. Social media did spark the Arab Spring, but then turned into a vehicle for counter-revolution in Friedman’s account. Two different takes: was social media just a minor impact? Or central both to the regime and the protesters? Regardless, Friedman’s piece is a welcome and long overdue sobering-up from the punch-drunk self-aggrandizing image of Western companies liberating the oppressed through commercial technology. Welcome to the camp of the skeptics and the doubters, Thomas Friedman.