The Arab spring and toxic comments

The Arab spring and toxic comments

After reading an interesting article from New York Times about the impact of social media on the Arab spring in the last years, I started to think about benefits and disadvantages of such a relationship between politics and online communication technology. Numerous points of interest, which were mentioned in the article, are not just limited to the such a revolutionising, political circumstance, but can also occur in our daily use of social media.

Wael Ghonim, a key character in the Egypt revolution from 2011, is working for Google Egypt and was honoured as one of the 100 most influential people in 2011 by the Time magazine (ElBaradei, 2011). In the NYT article, he listed different statements on todays’ social media system. I picked out two of the most interesting ones and comment them in this blogpost:

Firstly, “we don’t know how to deal with rumors. Rumors that confirm people’s biases are now believed and spread among millions of people.” (Ghonim, 2016). I think this claim is especially true when observing Donald Trump’s behaviour during the current presidential election campaign. He spreads lies, sexist and racist statements (O’Connor & Marans, 2016), while his supporters do not seem to critically question this behaviour. Or, they do not care at all, what would be even sadder.

Secondly, “it became really hard to change our opinions. Because of the speed and brevity of social media, we are forced to jump to conclusions and write sharp opinions in 140 characters about complex world affairs.” (Ghonim, 2016). By following German news on Facebook, I notice exactly this kind of online communication behaviour on certain news pages that take the current refugee crisis on: Many users are not using the comment function in order to have a profound discussion or trying to understand other opinions, but just to yell out their own extreme, often racist, opinion in combination with publicly insulting people they never met in their real life.

Even though, social media was a significant tool for Egyptian revolutionists in 2011 that helped to initiate the revolution (Friedman, 2016), the apparent anonymity and oversupply of (biased) information for users is a controversial topic.




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