From Tweets to the Streets. New Media and Political Engagement - A Case Study of Amnesty International and the Egyptian Uprisings
Abstract: Despite the so-called ‘great retreat’, in which people arguably are distancing themselves from the political sphere and civic engagement, the last two years has seen an upsurge in political activities. Outside the realms of institutionalised politics, i.e. political parties, lies a whole terrain of alternative political activities, including social movements and media institutions. Following the Egyptian revolution in 2011 there has been increased attention on the democratic potential of new media with the coining of terms, such as “Facebook revolution” and “Twitter revolution”. The question remains, however, to what extent new media can facilitate political empowerment and participation. Through a case study of Amnesty International and the Egyptian uprisings this paper will argue that faced with few attractive political opportunities, the Egyptian people created their own democratic space, a digital public sphere, where they could impact on society. This paper further argues that new media facilitates communication, rapid information exchange and education by opening up operational spaces for marginalised groups who might otherwise be excluded from the public sphere due to power hierarchies. Furthermore, new media challenges mainstream media’s hegemony and information monopoly by increasing the number of voices in public deliberation. However, it will be emphasised that despite the technology-as-progress discourse, one should not place too much value on new media as facilitator for social and political change. Nevertheless, based on a broad definition of the political, that acknowledges maximalist forms of democratic participation, we may begin to understand the democratic potential of new media.
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