Skip to Content Skip to Main Menu

Faculty of Arts & Science

Arts & Science News

Social media’s part in the 2011 Egyptian uprising: not as important as often claimed

There’s been some debate among researchers and journalists about the extent to which social media — Facebook, Twitter and text messages — stimulated unrest in the 2011 Egyptian uprising.

A new study by Robert Brym and four PhD students — Melissa Godbout, Andreas Hoffbauer, Gabe Menard, and Tony Huiquan Zhang — in the University of Toronto’s Department of Sociology, suggests social media’s role was not as significant as some have suggested.

“We found that new electronic communications media played a secondary role in the uprising,” said Brym. “While they certainly helped activists extend protest networks, express outrage, organize events, and warn comrades of real-time threats, they were also a low-cost, low-risk means of involvement that attracted many sympathetic onlookers who were not prepared to engage in high-risk activism,” said Brym.

“The main factors distinguishing demonstrators from sympathetic onlookers was the depth of the demonstrators’ grievances, their availability — especially if they were single, male, urban residents — and their previous connections to charitable and other voluntary associations, that is, previous activism of some kind.”

Their findings, based on a 2011 survey conducted in Egypt by the Gallup Organization, are reported in the current issue of the British Journal of Sociology.