Paper on the role of Facebook in the trajectory of the April 6th Youth Movement in Egypt accepted to AoIR 2012

The paper, Appropriating Facebook: The trajectory of Egypt’s April 6th Movement through the lens of a social networking site, will be presented at the 13th Annual International and Interdisciplinary Conference of the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) on October 18-21, 2012, in Salford, UK.

On January 25, 2011, Egyptian youth spearheaded a popular revolution as they became an important part of a societal force that lead to the demise of Hosni Mubarak’s regime. For 18 days, Tahrir Square captivated the world’s attention by becoming a global household name for social mobilization as it stood as an icon for peoples’ demands for their rights to “freedom and dignity.” In making this historical event happen, Egyptian youth used old and new media, online spaces, and offline street presence. These different tools became conduits for effective organizing, documenting, and communicating their revolution, both nationally to fellow citizens and worldwide to a global audience.

To understand the role of social networking sites in social activism, this paper examines the April 6th youth movement’s Facebook presence and its evolution from a “Facebook group,” co-founded by two young Egyptians Ahmed Maher and Esraa Abdel Fattah, to a social movement mobilizing and coordinating protests on the street via skillful utilization of a “Facebook page” with technical features to gain the followers who would eventually take to the streets on January 25, 2011.  To this end, we coded an archive of posts from the movement’s Facebook page and group in Arabic and the Facebook group in English from March 2008 through April 2011. This data set captures the movement’s Facebook activity from its inception to the consolidation of it as a mobilizing and organizing force garnering a broad level of support that crystalized in the first months of 2011.  The Facebook posts were coded using four main categories: 1) The actors and networks involved at different phases of the movement’s evolution; 2) The different mobilization strategies; 3)  Key events at the local level that influenced the way the movement organized, mobilized, and adapted their use of social media and other tools (i.e. Mubarak’s regime repression strategies); and 4) Key events at the international level that further galvanized collective action efforts in the country (i.e. the Israeli-Palestinian conflict).

To collect the Facebook posts, we developed an application using the Facebook Graph API, which is a tool for developers to access Facebook data and build applications. The main task for the application written in HTML and JavaScript languages was to retrieve the admin’s posts from the movement’s official Facebook group and Facebook page walls minus the comments. Existing parameters within Facebook do not allow the user to naturally browse through old posts without crashing the browser. Therefore, using this application in order to retrieve older posts proved crucial for our data collection task.

Comparing the analysis of data emerging from the April 6th youth movement’s Facebook group and page in Arabic (as conceptualized and experienced by the actual social actors) to the analytical observations made from examining the movement’s Facebook group in English (primarily directed to international audiences), this paper makes use of triangulation of evidence from these multiple online sources and their subsequent analysis in order to piece together parts of the narrative of a contemporary ICTs-facilitated revolution that also capitalized on pre-existing layers of collective action with varying intensities in order to reach social mobilization of unprecedented magnitude.

Authors of the paper are: Maria Garrido, Norah Abokhodair, Marwa Maziad & Volodymyr Lysenko