The Syrian Revolution’s Virtual Realm

22 May, 2012

New book by ACRPS researcher Hamzeh al-Moustafa

The ACRPS recently published (April 2012) The Syrian Revolution's Virtual Realm: Specificities, Directions and the Mechanisms for the Creation of Public Opinion (206 pp.). This timely book, which is thus far peerless in the combination of methodology with verifiable data it employs, makes use of rigorous academic methods, and is an attempt to understand the impact of social networks on the trajectory of the Syrian revolution. In this regard, it presents a critical review of the way in which this influence has been exaggerated by the media in what al-Moustafa describes as "the Facebook Myth".

Moustafa then examines the factors that drove the revolutionaries in Syria to take up the "virtual realm" of cyberspace in the first place. This was driven, he argues, by the complete monopolization of what would have been the traditional public sphere and political spaces by the Syrian authorities, which drove young Syrians to the Internet in a bid to reclaim political agency.

The main conclusion at which al-Moustafa arrives is that the revolutionaries' use of these social media succeeded in turning the tables on the traditional media, replacing them as the premier source of news and information and establishing a space in which values were contested and semiotic significance is bestowed.

Moustafa's work built on the corpus of existing scholarship on the media and ideas of the public sphere, presenting its impact on public opinion, with special focus on the following websites: Sham News Network (SNN), The Syrian Revolution, and Ugarit News. One of the major contributions of the book, however, is the way it collects and collates empirical evidence from the Syrian media landscape and history, such as a history of Syria's new-old flag, which rapidly became visible as a symbol of the revolution (the old flag differs slightly from Syria's official, UN-recognized flag, and has come to renewed prominence within the revolutionary movement). The book includes a discussion of the Local Coordination Committees and the interplay among them, including their role in the emergence of local leaders on the ground and the founding statement of the Union of the Local Coordination Committees of the Syrian Revolution and other relevant documents. In addition, the book offers, a list of the names of consecutive "Friday protests" and presents a qualitative analysis of debates in online discussion boards frequented by supporters of the Syrian revolution through social media sites, adding to its value as a tool for researchers interested in the Arab Spring, Syria, and how the internet became a venue for social and political activism in the region.

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