Column: The Internet and Imagined Communities



Social media sites like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook have forever changed the way people organize revolutions.

Throughout the course of the “Arab Spring”  Middle East protests, we have been reminded again and again of just how essential these sites have been to contemporary revolutions.

This was proven again in Mauritania April 25 when protestors held a “day of rage”  against the government of their President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. This day was the result of a series of YouTube messages and Facebook events which rallied together disempowered citizens and helped them share views with the rest of the country.

This newest example mirrors what we have seen throughout North Africa and the Middle East in recent months.

The Internet has proven itself to be the 21st century equivalent to the underground newspaper during Polish Solidarity or various other revolutionary movements. It has helped to form a new kind of community amongst people all over the world, particularly in countries where people believe that they are being politically, economically, or socially repressed. In these places, the internet provides a unique opportunity for youth to look outwards to find other people who share their beliefs and also are looking for a medium of expression.

 For these individuals, social media sites become an informal community in which people can learn and share their revolutionary ideas.

This informal community is partly imagined, yet its existence has played a key role in the way Arab youth throughout the Middle East have identified themselves and their revolutions.

In thinking about these new online communities, it is helpful to remember Benedict Anderson’s term, “imagined communities.” Anderson argued that nations were “imagined communities.”  This means that there is nothing natural about a nation; rather, nations are an artificial construction that helps unite a group of people.

In any given nation, there is no possible way that one would meet every other member of the nation. Yet, citizens of nations collectively share an identity that transcends their actual social network; similar to how online sites like Facebook have provided the same sort of community for people. They allow people from a variety of national, political and socio-economical backgrounds to come together and fight for their rights. They also offer repressed voices a realm in which their voices can be heard and encouraged.

Through these means, revolutions are formed and democracy stops being a goal and starts becoming a reality.  

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