“Social Media in the Region” in Peer-Reviewed Academic Journals of 2017 and 2018

“Social Media in the Region” in Peer-Reviewed Academic Journals of 2017 and 2018

[The Middle East Studies Pedagogy Initiative (MESPI) is pleased to present the PRAR Bouquet, a curated selection from our Peer-Reviewed Article Reviews that highlights knowledge production around a specific theme or topic. This bouquet series uses MESPI’s Peer-Reviewed Articles Reviews to analyze and provide insight into trends in academia.] 

This is the first of three bouquets of articles on the topic “media” in academic journal articles from 2017 and 2018 in the field of Middle East studies. This bouquet will be followed by one on “State-Owned Media and Its Others” and another on “Private and Activist Media.” Interestingly, in researching a potential bouquet topic, we noted that of all articles on media (in/and the Middle East) published in over 130 journals during 2017 and 2018, twenty-three percent were focused on social media, with thirty-five percent of those articles on social media taking Egypt as a primary case study. 

Social Media Applications in Crisis Management of Natural Disasters: Lessons for the Arab Region

By: Abdulrahman Elsamni

Published in Arab Media & Society (Issue 25)

Abstract: Not available

Youth in Morocco: Rebels without a Cause? Youth Violence, Social Media, and the Discontents of the Moroccan Consumer Society

By: Younes Yassni

Published in Arab Media & Society (Issue 26)

Abstract: Recently the Moroccan public had to grapple with what was perceived to be a worrying upsurge in youth crime related to Tsharmil or (cyber) bullying in the Moroccan vernacular. Mainstream media coverage of this issue ushered in an overwhelming sense of panic towards “deviant” youth that pose a serious “threat” to public law and order. By addressing the issue of Tsharmil, this article aims to go beyond the infotainment and politics of fear that have informed mainstream Moroccan media reports, which have failed to capture the complexities and ramifications of this phenomenon. Far from being a sudden, unwarranted outbreak of violence instigated by youth bullies, it is a strong indication of the emergence of a youth subculture where new modes of “marginal” practices, identities, solidarities, and visibilities have become inextricably woven into a rising consumer and brand culture. By looking specifically at Facebook pages devoted to Tsharmil and conducting formal interviews with members of the Tsharmil movement, this article argues that social media has provided youth with possibilities for the articulation of new practices, imaginaries, and identities in the face of a marginalizing consumer culture that has pushed youth to the ranks of flawed, disenfranchised, and frustrated consumers unable to fully partake and indulge in consumerist lifestyles.

A common transnational agenda? Communication network and discourse of political-Salafists on Twitter

By: Annette Ranko, Justyna Nedza, Nikolai Röhl

Published in Mediterranean Politics (Volume 23, Issue 2)

Abstract: Employing social network analysis, this article investigates the transnational communication network and discourse of political-Salafists on social media. It examines whether political-Salafists across the MENA region have a common sociopolitical and geopolitical agenda, and whether–given the recent shift of some political-Salafists towards violence–their discourse and communication network can still be distinguished from that of the jihadists. The analysis finds that political-Salafists do not share a common agenda but that their discourse and communication network display three transnational gravity centres: a revisionist, a status quo-oriented and an ostracized pro-Sisi gravity centre. Only the revisionist gravity centre advocates violence. Its discourse, however, remains clearly set apart from that of the jihadists.

Social Media in Turkey as a Space for Political Battles: AKTrolls and other Politically motivated trolling

By: Erkan Saka

Published in Middle East Critique (Volume 27, Issue 2)

Abstract: This article focuses on AKTrolls, defined as pro-government political trolls in Turkey, while attempting to draw implications about political trolling in the country in general. It examines their methods and effects, and it interrogates whether (and how) Turkish authorities have attempted to shape or counter politically motivated social media content production through trolling after the Gezi Park protests that took place in 2013. My findings are based on an ethnographic study that included participant observation and in-depth interviews in a setting that is under-studied and about which reliable sources are difficult to find. The study demonstrates political trolling activity in Turkey is more decentralized and less institutionalized than generally thought, and is based more on ad hoc decisions by a larger public. However, I argue here that AKTrolls do have impact on reducing discourses on social media that are critical of the government, by engaging in surveillance, among other practices.

Online as the New Frontline: Affect, Gender, and ISIS-Take-Down on Social Media

By: Elizabeth Pearson

Published in Studies in Conflict & Terrorism (Volume 41, Issue 11)

Abstract: Using a dataset of more than 80 accounts during 2015, this article explores the gendered ways in which self-proclaiming Twitter Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) supporters construct community around “suspension.” The article argues that suspension is an integral event in the online lives of ISIS supporters, which is reproduced in online identities. The highly gendered roles of ISIS males and females frame responses to suspension, enforcing norms that benefit the group: the shaming of men into battle and policing of women into modesty. Both male and female members of “Wilayat Twitter” regard online as a frontline, with suspension an act of war against the “baqiya family.” The findings have implications for broader repressive measures against ISIS online.

Ctrl-Alt-Revolt? Online and Offline Networks during the 2011 Egyptian Uprising

By: Elizabeth R. Nugent, Chantal E. Berman2

Published in Middle East Law and Governance (Volume 10, Issue 1)

Abstract: Analyses of the 2011 Egyptian uprising assign a significant mobilizing role to the interpersonal networks created through Facebook and Twitter. However, these studies fail to investigate online networks in comparison with more traditional “offline” networks, which are similarly theorized to mobilize members to protest participation. In this paper, we analyze nationally representative Arab Barometer survey data from Egypt 2011 to compare the mobilizing effects of memberships in four different types of networks: online, union, community, and religious. We test whether these networks were distinct and operated in competition, or overlapping and operated in tandem to mobilize Egyptians to protest. We demonstrate that different networks mobilized different segments of the population, consistent with theories about the negative revolutionary coalition necessary for successful uprisings. We also show that multiple network membership increases protest propensity, and that individuals at the intersection of online networks and community group networks, such as those formed through membership in charity groups or sports clubs, are most likely to engage in revolutionary protest. These results speak to an important interactive effect between online and offline networks in terms of facilitating successful revolutionary uprisings.

The Birth and Death of 25TV: Innovation in Post-Revolution Egyptian TV News Formats

By: Dina Ibrahim

Published in Arab Media & Society (Issue 23)

Abstract: This case study highlights an experiment that aimed to disrupt traditional television news production and presentation models in post-revolution Egypt. It is a snapshot of a brief moment in Egyptian television history when an attempt was made at innovating news production and content, but much like the Egyptian revolution, ultimately failed to change the status quo. The case study of 25TV examines how political, social, and economic dissatisfaction among Egyptian youth inspired innovation in news formats that gave more content production power to younger and less experienced news presenters and producers. Through the brief lifespan of 25TV, this article will discuss the role of social media and television in the immediate aftermath of the revolution, the contentious relationship between freedom of speech and military rule, and the innovative ways in which television formats in Egypt were nurtured, grew and perished in the post-revolution era.

Emotional Realism, Affective Labor and Politics in the Arab Fandom of Game of Thrones

By: Katty Alhayek

Published in International Journal of Communication (Volume 11)

Abstract: This article examines the Game of Thrones (GoT) fan phenomena in the Arab world. Although I contextualize GoT as a commodity within HBO’s global ambitions to attract a global audience, I study GoT Arab fans as an organized interpretive online community. I examine the Arabic fan Facebook page “Game of Thrones‒Official Arabic Page” (GoT-OAP), which has over 240,000 followers, as a case study of cultural production and consumption by fans. Based on interviews with members of the administration staff of the GoT-OAP Facebook page, as well as textual analysis of the page’s posts, I ask: How is fan culture around GoT produced in the Arab world? How are the boundaries between being fans, media producers, and consumers negotiated? Are there connections between the themes of GoT and the current unrest across the Arab region? If so, how are they articulated? Through emotional realism and hybridity, I show that Arab fans find ways to negotiate their fandom of GoT with their local context and lived experiences.

A master institution of world society? Digital communications networks and the changing dynamics of transnational contention

By: Tobias Lemke, Michael W Habegger

Published in International Relations (Volume 32, Issue 3)

Abstract: In English School theory, the putative change from an international society of states to a world society of individuals is usually associated with the diffusion of a benign form of cosmopolitanism and the normative agenda of solidarism. Consequently, the notion that world society might enable alternative expressions of transnational politics, independent from international society, remains underdeveloped. Drawing on the literature of contentious politics and social movements, this article challenges orthodox accounts and suggests that the global proliferation of digitally mediated linkages between individuals and nonstate actors constitutes a fundamental challenge to traditional dynamics of interstate communication in the form of the diplomatic system. This provides an opportunity to reconceptualize world society as an alternative site of politics distinct from mainstream international society and generative of its own logic of communication, mobilization, and action. The 2011 events in Egypt and the ongoing digital presence of the so-called Islamic State are used to demonstrate how massive increases in global interaction capacity are transforming the pathways for political contention and collective mobilization worldwide.

Bahrain’s February 14 Coalition: Deconstructing a Revolutionary Youth Movement

By: Kylie Moore-Gilbert

Published in The Middle East Journal (Volume 72, Issue 3)

Abstract: This article examines Bahrain’s 14 February Coalition, an anonymous and decentralized youth movement that was formed during the small Gulf state’s 2011 Arab Spring-inspired uprising. Drawing on fieldwork interviews and a content analysis study of the group’s Facebook page, this article explores how the group uses its opaque organizational structure and strong social media presence to promote its offline activities. In providing empirical data on the ideology, aims, and approach to activism of this important yet understudied group, this article questions prevailing sectarian narratives and makes the case for a more nuanced understanding of Bahrain’s ongoing civil unrest.

Beyond Access to Social Media: A Comparison of Gratifications, Interactivity, and Content Usage Among Egyptian Adults

By: Mohamed Fadl Elhadidi A

Published in Global Media Journal (Volume 16, Issue 30)

Abstract: Based on the concepts and new trends of uses and gratifications theory and its application on new media, this study searched in the gratifications sought from social media (SM) sites among Egyptian adults (N=322); how they use the content and practice interactivity through the sites. Data were collected through a quantitative study applying a questionnaire conducted in February and March 2017. Findings through Exploratory Factor Analysis showed four categories of motives and six of content usage. Despite some sites predicting some motives, Facebook was the most leading medium to satisfy all types of users’ needs. Outcomes revealed that specific content not only can satisfy specific needs but also can meet other purposes of SM usage. In addition, both Facebook and Twitter were the most predictive of interactivity among Egyptian users. The study also found some effects of demographic variables on both users’ gratifications sought and interactivity.

The Politics of Representation on Social Media: The Case of Hamas during the 2014 Israel–Gaza Conflict

By: Jinjin Zhang

Published in Arab Media & Society (Issue 24)

Abstract: Alongside the military confrontation that took place in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in July and August 2014, a battle in the media sector was also underway. This study focuses on the agenda of Hamas during different stages of the psychological war between the two sides involved, namely itself and the Israeli government. By selecting texts and images from two Hamas-affiliated Arabic social media accounts respectively, the study applies grounded theory to inspect the themes of Hamas’s political marketing and tracks the evolution of the themes in terms of time and frequency by cross-referencing events on the timeline. It also explores how the themes interacted and co-evolved with local and international attitudes towards the Gaza Conflict.

Talk about terror in our back gardens: an analysis of online comments about British foreign fighters in Syria

By: Raquel de Silve, Rhys Crilley

Published in Critical Studies on Terrorism (Volume 10, Issue 1)

Abstract: The phenomenon of foreign fighters has become a central issue to the ongoing conflict in Syria. This article explores how members of the public answer the question “Why do British citizens join the conflict in Syria?” on social media sites and in response to online news articles. Building upon research on everyday narratives of security and terrorism, we analyse 807 comments, and in doing so, we argue that online comments are important in producing the discursive environment for making sense of British foreign fighters and what should be done in response to them. We find that there is a tendency to view British foreign fighters as being purely motivated by religion, and there is also a belief that British foreign fighters should be responded to through exceptional measures. We discuss the implications of such perceptions, and we highlight how problematic misconceptions about Islam and Muslims are not just disseminated through elite and media discourse, but through everyday narratives published by members of the public online.

Online clustering, fear and uncertainty in Egypt’s transition

By: Marc Lynch, Deen Freelon, Sean Aday

Published in Democratization (Volume 24, Issue 6)

Abstract: Does the uncertainty associated with post-authoritarian transitions cause political and social polarization? Does ubiquitous social media exacerbate these problems and thus make successful democratic transitions less likely? This article examines these questions in the case of Egypt between the 11 February 2011 fall of President Hosni Mubarak and the 3 July 2013 military coup, which overthrew President Mohamed el-Morsi. The analysis is based on a Twitter dataset including sixty-two million tweets by seven million unique users. Using a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods, we demonstrate how clusters of users form and evolve over time, the density of interactions between them, and the flow of particular types of information through the clustered network structure. We show that the Egyptian Twitter public developed into increasingly isolated clusters of the like-minded which shared information unevenly. We argue that the growing distance between these clusters encouraged political conflict and facilitated the spread of fear and hatred, which ultimately undermined the democratic transition and won popular support for the military coup.

Brothers, Believers, Brave Mujahideen: Focusing Attention on the Audience of Violent Jihadist Preachers

By:Anne Aly

Published in Studies in Conflict & Terrorism (Volume 40, Issue 1)

Abstract:  The exponential growth in the use of the Internet and social media by terrorist actors and violent extremists has generated research interest into terrorism and the Internet. Much of this research is focused on the kinds of messages being spread via the various media platforms that host violent extremist content. This research has yielded significant insights into how organizations such as al-Qa‘ida and Islamic State craft their messages, the mediums they use to disseminate their messages, and the ways in which they reach their audiences. Yet we are still no closer to understanding why certain messaging appeals to certain people in certain ways and not to others. Within the literature on terrorism and the Internet, the audience—those individuals who receive messages, make meaning from them and then decide whether to act on them—is conspicuously missing. As a result, research into terrorism and the Internet can only hypothesize about the nature and extent of influence that terrorist messages wield. It is often based on an assumption that the violent extremist narrative works like a magic bullet to radicalize audiences already vulnerable and predisposed to becoming violent. Utilizing media theory approaches to studying the audience as an active agent in meaning-making, this article proposes a research framework for developing the current focus on terrorism and the Internet.

“Conventional” and “Virtual” Civil Societies in Autocratic Regimes

By: Mark R. Beissinger

Published in Comparative Politics (Volume 49, Issue 3)

Abstract: In recent years many non-democracies have witnessed the rapid growth of new social media that have, in a number of instances, become vehicles for civic activism, even in the presence of anemic “conventional” civil society association. Using evidence from Russia, Tunisia, Egypt, and Ukraine, this article explores the implications of “virtual” civil society for opposition politics in autocratic regimes. The rise of “virtual” civil society potentially presents autocratic regimes with new challenges for control over the streets. But a robust “virtual” civil society combined with a weak “conventional” civil society has a series of less positive consequences for oppositional politics, reinforcing weak political organization, breeding a false sense of representativeness, diluting collective identities within oppositions, and rendering mobilization over extended periods of time more difficult.

Twitter and Transformative Diplomacy: Social Mdeia and Iran-US Relations

By: Constance Duncombe

Published in International Affairs (Volume 93, Issue 3)

Abstract: Social media is increasingly used as a means of communication between states. Diplomats and political leaders are ever more relying on Twitter in their daily practice to communicate with their counterparts. These exchanges occur in view of a global audience, providing an added level of scrutiny that is unique to this form of communication. Twitter arguably challenges traditional notions of diplomacy according to which it is conducted through formal channels of communication and informal face-to-face social engagement. Yet we must ask how instrumental social media is as a tool for signalling intentions, and whether this medium can be an effective platform for dialogue and trust development when traditional face-to-face diplomacy is limited. Social media posts by state representatives reflect and frame state identity and how a state wishes to be recognized by others. If we are attuned to these dynamics, shifts in representational patterns communicated through social media during high-level negotiations allow realizations of political possibilities for change. Key here is the surprising nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 that analysts and policy-makers have struggled to explain. I argue that the role of Twitter as a key part of negotiation strategy is a crucial demonstration of how social media can shape the struggle for recognition, and thereby legitimize political possibilities for change. Understanding the increasingly prominent and powerful, yet largely unknown, variable of social media as a tool of diplomatic practice provides insight into the recurrent question of how diplomats affect change beyond upholding the status quo in the international order.

Analysing labels, associations, and sentiments in Twitter on the Abu Sayyaf kidnapping of Viktor Okonek

By: Joseph Anthony L. Reyes, Tom Smith

Published in Terrorism and Political Violence (Volume 29, Issue 6)

Abstract: This article investigates Twitter data related to the kidnapping case of two German nationals in the southern region of the Philippines by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG). It explores perceptions of the ASG, along with associated organizations and sentiments indicated in the tweets together with statistically significant relationships. Findings revealed that: “Rebel” and “Militant” were the most frequently used labels for the ASG; a majority of the tweets contained sentiments that assess threats such as abduction and kidnapping of hostages; and almost half contained words that indicate negotiation or concession to the demands of the captors. Logistic regression analyses on “rebel” and “Islamist” revealed positive coefficients for these sentiments used as predictors. This meant that people who assessed threats and expressed sentiments that responders should concede to the captors’ demands were more likely to use the “rebel” or “Islamist” labels. Rather than the two longstanding dominant narratives of the ASG as terrorists and criminals, the emerging rebel and militant labels suggest a more domestically and politically sensitive Twitter commentary than is represented in the work of the al-Qa‘ida-centric paradigm exponents. These findings, along with the complex associated political and policy contexts and implications, are discussed in this article.

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