Social Media During the Egyptian Revolution: A Study of Collective Identity and Organizational Function of Facebook & Co

©2014 Textbook 209 Pages


With the fall of the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt the term ‘Facebook Revolution’ was coined depicting the world’s most popular social media platform as a condition sine qua non for the Arab revolutions. Moving on from the extreme positions of cyber-utopians and pessimists, this study identifies and analyses mechanisms of use and potential intermediary effects of social media in connection with other driving factors of mass demonstrations that led to the fall of the Mubarak regime in early 2011. Semi-structured focus interviews were carried out with social media activists in Cairo between November 20th and 24th, 2011. The qualitative content analysis of eight interviews allowed for the identification of relevant categories and sub-categories as well as possible connections between them. Additionally, a thorough analysis of the Egyptian socio-economic, political and media system in the years leading up to the revolution provides the basis for valuable and contextual conclusions. Among the key findings is the accelerating effect of social media in mobilizing the Egyptian population to take part in mass demonstrations. Whereas the organizational function is limited to online network effects rather than facilitating the coordination of protesters on the ground, a significant impact of social media on the perception of a collective identity and threshold levels relevant for individual protest behavior was identified through this research. Moreover, the findings implicate a mutual dependency between new social media and traditional mass media.


Table Of Contents

List of Abbreviations
British Broadcasting Corporation
Central Intelligence Agency
Committee to Protect Journalists
Deutsche Welle Akademie
Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik
Egyptian Radio and Television Union
Gross Domestic Product
Gross National Income
Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit
High Elections Commission
Human Development Index
Human Rights Watch
Inequality Adjusted Human Development Index
International Atomic Energy Agency
Information and Communication Technologies
Information Technology
International Research & Exchange Board
Middle East Broadcasting Corporation
Ministry of Communication and Information Technology
Middle East and North Africa
Middle East News Agency
Millenium Development Goals

National Association for Change
National Telecommunication Regulatory Authority
Non-Governmental Organization
Project on Information Technology & Political Islam
Security Council of the Armed Forces
Social Movement Organizations
Social Networking Sites
Video Journalist
World Wide Web
User Generated Content
United Nations Development Programme
United Nations Population Fund
United Nations Children's Fund

Index of Tables and Figures
Table 1: Overview of Interview Partners ... 58
Table 2: Final Category System ... 61
Table 3: Key Functions (Code 1.1.) ... 102
Table 4: Limitations (Code 1.2.) ... 106
Table 5: Purpose of Use (Code 1.3.) ... 108
Table 6: Formation of Protest Movement (Code 2.1.1.)... 112
Table 7: Intensity of Links (Code 2.1.2.) ... 115
Table 8: Inter-Relationship between Online and Offline Population (Code 2.1.3.) ... 117
Table 9: Leadership Structure (Code 2.2.1.) ... 118
Table 10: Professionalization (Code 2.2.2.) ... 120
Table 11: Coordination Function (Code 2.2.3.) ... 121
Table 12: Influential Content (Code 3.1.) ... 123
Table 13: Collective Identity and Solidarity (Code 3.2.1.) ... 126
Table 14: Risk and Fear (Code 3.2.2.) ... 128
Table 15: Other Motivational Factors (Code 3.2.3.) ... 129
Table 16: Media Coverage of Revolution (Code 4.1.) ... 132
Table 17: Social and Tradtional Media (Code 4.2.) ... 135
Figure 1: Typology of Internet-Supported and Internet-Based Collective Action ... 21
Figure 2: Model of Collective Identity Effects ... 85
Figure 3: Still Image of Kasr Nil Bridge Crossing on January 25
, 2012 ... 139
Figure 4: Still Image of Egyptian `Tank Man' ... 139

1. Introduction
Not only since the popular uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East (MENA), the
discussion of the political impact of social media has gained increased relevance and
intensity. The first wave of cyber-optimism, which hit the world in the 1990s, tailed off
with the turn of the century after the burst of the dotcom bubble.
Since the so-called `Twitter Revolutions'
in Moldova and following the contested presi-
dential elections in Iran in 2009, a new generation of cyber-optimists joined enthusiasts
who believe that protest movements in undemocratic societies benefit significantly from the
use of social media. More recently, the term `Facebook Revolution'
was coined depicting
social media as a condition sine qua non for mass protests followed by the fall of authori-
tarian regimes and political reforms in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and other countries in the
In contrast to that, the perspective of cyber-skeptics, social media constitute little more than
revolutionary gadgets in the resistive repertoire of Arab dissidents, while the most im-
portant mechanisms to promote popular mobilization continue to be low-tech. The Belarus-
ian author Evgeny Morozov leads a group of highly critical voices dismissing the influence
of the World Wide Web (WWW) in general and social media in particular as marginal.
In his book `The Net Delusion'
, Morozov convincingly reveals the numerous contradic-
tions of internet utopians and presents various historical accounts of failing technological
revolutions which were expected to result in positive social change. He argues that access
to information does not automatically increase people's interest in politics, human rights or
democracy. More importantly, new technologies provide unseen opportunities for repres-
Cf. Gladwell, Malcolm (2010): Small Change: Why the revolution won't be tweeted. In: The New Yorker.
Retrieved 03/29/2012: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/10/04/101004fa_fact_gladwell
Cf. Taylor, Chris (2010): Why Not Call it a Facebook Revolution. Retrieved 03/29/2012:
http://edition.cnn.com/2011/TECH/social.media/02/24/facebook.revolution/index.html?hpt=Sbin; Cf.
Reardon, Sara (April 13
, 2012): Was the Arab Spring Really a Facebook Revolution? In: New Scientist,
Magazine Issue 2859. Retrieved 04/29/2012: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21428596.400-was-the-
Cf. Morozov, Evgeny (2009): Iran: Downside to the `Twitter Revolution'. In: Dissent, 56 (4). Retrieved
03/29/2012: http://www.evgenymorozov.com/morozov_twitter_dissent.pdf
Cf. Morozov, Evgeny (2011): The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom. New York, Public

sive governments to control dissident tendencies in cyber space rather than fulfilling the
hope for civil empowerment and more democratic societies.
Despite being criticized for overstating internet control by repressive governments and
lacking recognition of online activist and their achievements, Morozov acknowledges the
mobilization effect of social media and strongly advocates for a contextual approach taking
into account social, cultural and political factors.
The wide divergence between optimist viewpoints and rising skepticism clearly suggests
that empirical research is direly required in order to advance our understanding of the
specific functions of social media regarding political participation and protest mobilization.
Hence, this study aims to identify and analyse mechanisms of use and potential inter-
mediary effects of social media in connection with other driving factors of mass demonstra-
tions that led to the fall of the regime of incumbent president Hosni Mohamed Mubarak in
Egypt in early 2011. Rather than discussing whether social media was indispensable to the
revolution or not, the research goal is to find answers to the more specific question:
"In what ways did social media enhance participation in political protest leading to the fall
of the Mubarak regime in early 2011?"
The study is based on relevant theoretical approaches to the concept of `social media' and
the significance of the internet for political participation and protest mobilization. The
implications and recommendations of existing empirical studies in the field leading the
author to focus on two main aspects: Firstly, the organizational function and network
aspects, and secondly, the process of collective identity creation leading to collective action.
Egypt has been chosen as a case study for this study as it is a prominent and a successful
case in the sense that the potential effects of both online and offline protest mobilization
resulted in the resignation of the president Mubarak. Although the lead up to the revolution
is taken into consideration as well, the first wave of mass protests that took place between
January 25
and the fall of the regime on February 11
, 2011 provide for a limited
timeframe in order to analyze the concrete role of social media for protest mobilization in
the specific context of Egypt.

This Master Study forms part of a two-year collaborative research project implemented by
the Deutsche Welle Akademie (DWA) and the German Development Institute (DIE). The
interviews conducted in Egypt, together with the findings from research carried out in
Tunisia, where an adapted interview guideline was utilized, served as the basis for the
design of a large-scale quantitative online survey, implemented in the same countries in
early 2012.
The study consists of three parts. It starts off with presenting relevant theoretical approach-
es for the empirical study conducted for this Master Study. This includes a definition of the
term `social media' and the explanation of relevant aspects of network theory (2.1.).
Furthermore, theories determining the potential role and impact of the internet for political
participation relevant for this study are presented in this first section (2.2.).
Chapter 3 provides a detailed contextual study of the Egyptian socio-economic and political
developments with a focus on the Mubarak era, as well as an outline of the key events
throughout the 18 days of the nation-wide civil uprising in January and February 2011
(3.1.). Additionally, Egypt's media landscape (3.2.) is reviewed in this chapter examining
two essential aspects: Firstly, the media system as a whole and the state of media freedom
in particular are outlined. Secondly, the state of internet and social media in Egypt is
analyzed in greater detail.
The most important part of this study is Chapter 4, where the empirical study is presented.
Apart from identifying the current state of research in the field of study (4.1.), the research
design and the methodological approach are described (4.2.). Moreover, the results of the
qualitative content analysis (4.3.) are outlined and critically discussed (4.4.) in this chapter.

2. The Theory: Social Media and Political Participation
2.1. Definition and Network Aspects of `Social Media'
Although Kaplan & Haenlein view the emergence of social media and their usage as a
"revolutionary new trend"
, the concept itself cannot be considered a breakthrough. On the
contrary, social media present a backward evolution to the original aim of the internet as "a
platform to facilitate information exchange between users"
. Whereas communication of
Web 1.0 was one-directional and based on personal, static websites, Web 2.0 is more
interactive as it enables users to share content in multiple ways and directions. While there
is consent that social media in particular present new possibilties and challenges for
businesses, political aims and other societal spheres, confusion is widespread as to what
exactly the term `social media' means and how it should be differentiated from related
To begin with, Kaplan and Haenlein define social media as
"a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technologi-
cal foundations of Web 2.0, which allows the creation and exchange of user-
generated content"
Apart from highlighting the importance of technological innovations like Adobe Flash,
Java Script and RSS
as crucial preconditions for today's social media platforms, Kaplan
and Haenlein claim that a central element of social media is their reliance on User Generat-
ed Content (UCG). Three key requirements of UCG have to be taken into account: 1. The
content is publicly available on web pages and social networking sites rather than through
email or instant messaging. 2. It has to be the outcome of a creative process. 3. This
creative effort is not a result of professional production or commercial aims.
Kaplan, Andreas M. & Haenlein, Michael (2010): Users of the World. Unite! The Challenges and Opportu-
nities of Social Media. In: Business Horizons, 53 (1), p. 59
Ibid, p. 60
Ibid, p. 59
RSS is an acronym for `Rich Site Summary', a format for regular delivery of website content often offered
by online news services to their user base. (Cf. What is RSS? RSS Explained. Retrieved 06/27/2012:
Cf. Kaplan, A. & Haenlein, M. (2010), p. 61

Different marketing-based definitions of `social media' have been analyzed by Pavlik and
McIntosh. As the common element of all, "the intersection of technology, social interac-
tion, and information sharing"
can be pointed out. Moreover, they outline a framework of
distinctive characteristics. In contrast to traditional media, social media provide their users
with five opportunities: Choice, curation, conversation, creation and collaboration.
Next to creation, which is again referring to the possibility for users to produce and
disseminate their own content, conversation is an equally important aspect of social media.
It highlights the opportunity to enter into an ongoing dialogue and to discuss contentious
topics "on a scale and in ways not possible with traditional media"
Choice and curation refer to social media enabling users to select content, style, format and
genre of the media they consume online. With respect to news media, social media expand
the news selection, production and distribution process. News stories are no longer created
and published exclusively by media professionals "but emerge() from an ecosystem in
which journalists, sources, readers and viewers exchange information"
The central attribute of the five C's, distinguishing social media from older forms of mass
media, is the collaboration aspect. "(T)he willingness of people to collaborate on a com-
mon good for no personal monetary gain"
, as Pavlik and McIntosh describe it, becomes
particularly relevant when discussing the role of social media with respect to political
processes and participation. Pavlik and McIntosh emphasize that there is a large number of
cases in which collaboration of social movements was extended from the virtual to the
offline sphere.
In light of its distinctive collaboration function, `social media' is often used as a synonym
for the `social web'. Ebersbach et al define the term stressing the collaboration function of
social media as one of its essential elements based on the overarching aspect of communi-
Pavlik, John V. & McIntosh, Shawn (2011): Converging Media. A New Introduction to Mass Communica-
tion. New York/Oxford, Oxford University Press, p. 253
Cf. ibid, p. 257
The Economist (July 7
, 2011): Social Media. The People Formerly Known as the Audience. Retrieved
09/03/2011: www.economist.com/node/18904124
Pavlik, J. V. & McIntosh, S. (2011), p. 258

cation. To them, collaboration means the collection and creation of new information, and
above all, new knowledge.
The concept of collaboration provides a starting point to specify different types of social
media. The leading online encyclopaedia Wikipedia is probably the most widely known
collaborative project. Providing a classification model, Kaplan and Haenlein further
distinguish blogs, content communities and social networking sites. In addition to these
four types, the "computer-based simulated environments"
of virtual games and social
worlds represent the newest form of social media.
Looking even closer at the specific functions of social media, Ebersbach et al consider two
more aspects as essential: information and relationship management. Whereas the informa-
tional function focuses on the publication and distribution of multimedia content, opinions
and other types of content, relationship management means finding and maintaining
connections to other people online, gaining information about them or transferring real-life
acquaintances to the so-called `social web'.
This study aims to examine the role of social networking sites (SNS) during the Egyptian
revolution which represent a specific type of social media. Platforms such as Facebook
and Twitter
, in particular, have become so influential for the offline and online world, that
`social media' is frequently used as an equivalent for SNS. However, for the purpose of this
research, the term `social media' will be preferred over that of SNS as it stands for the
overarching concept rather than specific types and functions of new forms of online media.
Given the focus of this study on SNS, it will be important to take a closer look at the
network aspects of social media before entering into the theoretical and empirical chapters.
Castells identifies three major advantages of networks as a form of organizations with high
Ebersbach, Anja, Glaser, Markus & Heigl, Richard (2011): Social Web, 2
Edition. Konstanz, UVK
Kaplan, A.M. & Haenlein, M. (2010), p. 60
Ebersbach et al (2011), pp. 38/39
Facebook was founded by former Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg in 2004. Today it is the world's largest
social networking site with more than 800 million monthly users. (Cf. Crunchbase: Facebook. Retrieved
06/27/2012: http://www.crunchbase.com/company/facebook)
Twitter is a free microblogging service founded in 2006. Messages are based on a maximum of 140
characters called `tweets'. (Cf. Mashable: Twitter, Retrieved 06/27/2012:

levels of efficiency. By virtue of new technologies, today's networks are flexible, scalable
and survivable. Flexibility means that they can adjust their shape and linkage structure
without changing their objectives circumventing barriers of information flows. Similarly,
networks can decrease or increase without major disruptions (scalability). Thirdly their
decentralized structure and their flexible configuration provide them with strong resistance
to attacks of their nodes (survivability). Castells highlights the capacity of networks as
social organizations to assimilate new actors and contents "with relative independence of
the power centers"
. These network aspects become particularly relevant when looking at
the societal level.
In his book `The Network Society', Van Dijk claims that "(n)etworks are becoming the
nervous system of our society"
and are increasingly based on new information and
communication technologies (ICTs). Without taking a clear stance as either a pessimist or
an optimist, Van Dijk carefully examines the impact of networks on all societal levels
including the individual, the organizational and the global scale.
Van Dijk outlines three equally important characteristics of new online media. Firstly, in
highlighting the process of convergence, which "leads to a gradual merging of telecommu-
nications, data communications and mass communications"
, integration is defined as a
main characteristic. Another key aspect is digitalization, meaning the transformation of
information into binary code consisting entirely of 1 and 0. As the overview of different
definitions of social media has shown, interactivity is frequently mentioned as another
central aspect of new media platforms. In this respect, Van Dijk posits not only that the rise
of social media goes hand in hand with growing importance of interactive media, but also
claims that they "enable a shift in the balance of power to the user and the side of de-
Castells, Manuel (2004): The Network Society: A Cross-Cultural Perspective. Cheltenham (UK), Edward
Elgar Publishing, p. 5
Cf. ibid, pp. 3 ­ 6
Van Dijk, Jan (2006): The Network Society: Social Aspects of New Media. London/New Delhi/Thousand
Oaks, Sage Publications, p. 2
Ibid, p. 7
Ibid, p. 8

A `network' can be defined as "a collection of links between elements of a unit"
. An
element is also called a `node' and all the units together form a `system'. For Van Dijk
networks are a way of organizing the complexity of natural and societal systems. Apart
from biological networks such as eco-systems, organic systems and mental systems, society
today is determined by social, technological and media networks. More precisely, "(t)he
combination of social and media networks produced by organizational and technological
innovation forms the all-embracing network structure of modern societies."
Moreover, Pavlik and McIntosh stress that the links between single elements of a system
can be either strong or weak, temporary or permanent. Strong ties represent "tight bonds
between people in a `small world' of close connections"
. `Small worlds' in network terms
represent "tight-knit groups"
. Weak ties, in contrast, are links that are less frequent or
further apart. This, however, does not mean that loose connections are of lesser importance.
Different types of members of a network can be classified as follows: First of all, so-called
`influencers' can be distinguished from `isolates'. While influencers have the ability to
prompt other people within the network to perform a certain action or change their attitude,
`isolates' are nodes in a network that are not connected to other nodes and therefore lack
influence. As a third group, they define `hubs' as a "node that has many connections to
other nodes in a social network"
. Even if these are weak links, hubs are considered
influential nodes due to the quantity of contacts they have to other members.
Furthermore, Van Dijk differentiates between hierarchical organizations and non-
hierarchical or heterarchical networks. Hierarchical systems are characterized by lower
units being controlled by units at higher levels. In contrast, networks are heterarchical,
meaning they allow for interaction within and between all levels while "neither the higher
nor the lower levels are in control"
. In line with Van Dijk, new media enhance not only
these non-hierarchical ways of interaction but also different forms of communication on an
interpersonal as well as an organizational and a societal level.
Ibid, p. 24
Ibid, p. 28
Pavlik, J.V. & McIntosh, S. (2011), p. 269
Ibid, p. 270
Ibid, p. 269
Van Dijk, J. (2006), p. 28

Traditional social network theory emphasizes the relationships between the different
elements of a network rather than internal processes of communication within the various
units with the aim to create meaning, manage resources and set out rules. Van Dijk,
however, applies a moderate approach which includes the analysis of the characteristics of
the units themselves. Accordingly, he distinguishes various types of communication
patterns in new media environment which are mostly based on two-sided and multilateral
ways of information exchange. Again, conversation can be outlined as the most prominent
mode of communication on social media platforms. This means, information is exchanged
by at least two local units through a shared medium rather than a centre. The units them-
selves determine the subject, time and speed of communication. In modern network
societies, Van Dijk argues, there has been "a clear shift of patterns towards local units"
With relevance to network theory for social media, Pavlik and McIntosh conclude that
"(e)arly social media such as email and discussion groups gave people the communicative
tools to connect but still did not allow people to visualize their social networks"
. What is
new and important about SNS is the possibility to publish one's own social networks and to
share that map with other members of the network enabling them to build new connec-
Presenting a more specific view on social media in the context of emerging democracies,
Ali highlights the power to attract wide audiences as one of the key strengths of social
networking sites, which he refers to as "multi-media centred social media"
. Whereas
traditional websites and online services are often targeting a specific market, global
platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are typically free of charge. As a consequence, Ali
emphasizes the potential of social media to overcome socio-economic and cultural differ-
ences, and to create diversity in regards to the content available online.
Ibid, p. 12
Pavlik J.V. & McIntosh , S. (2011), p. 272
Cf. ibid, p. 266
Ali, Amir Hatem (2011): The Power of Social Media in Developing Nations: New Tools for Closing the
Global Digital Divides and Beyond, in: Human Rights Journal, 24 (1). Havard Law School: pp. 185 ­ 220.
Retrieved 03/29/2012: http://harvardhrj.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/185-220.pdf, p. 212
Cf. ibid, pp. 213/214

Moreover, Ali claims that social media provide new opportunities in the context of low
education levels and high illiteracy rates, as they require "little if any knowledge of or
familiarity with technological underpinnings"
due to their multimedia content. Apart from
text, still and moving images are shared through social media platforms.
The capacity of diverse content creation combined with the potential to reach large audi-
ences can be seen as the distinctive feature of social media as a development tool. Content
creation is no longer based on a centralized process where authorities control the produc-
tion and publication process. In contrast, social media enable individual users to produce
content themselves and leave them to determine the rate at which the content is published
as well as its relevance.
Taking into account these distinctive characteristics of social media and social networking
sites, it is not surprising that Facebook, Twitter and other services are expected to continu-
ously provide innovative ways enhancing political participation and democratic transfor-
mation processes in countries with authoritarian governments and limited freedom of
After providing a range of different definitions of `social media', a general approach to
modern network theory and a specific perspective on the potentials of social media in
emerging democracies, the following main points can be summarized: Social media are
based on the interactive nature and the technological innovations of Web 2.0. Five types of
social media can be distinguished: Wikis
, blogs, content sharing platforms, social net-
working sites and virtual game worlds. Social media have a variety of functions including
the sharing of information and the expansion of knowledge driven by the users themselves,
who enter into multi-directional forms of conversation and produce content in a collabora-
tive and creative effort. Moreover, social media platforms and especially SNS such as
Facebook and Twitter, allow individual users as well as groups to visualize and manage
their relationships more or less effectively.
Ibid, p. 213
Cf. ibid, p. 214
A Wiki is a website based on information which is contributed, changed and deleted by users
collaboratively. (Cf. Wikipedia: Wiki. Retrieved 06/27/2012: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiki)

In light of the potential benefits of multimedia content creation and distribution in a
decentralized manner, plenty of hope is placed on social media platforms regarding the
promotion of pluralism, citizen empowerment, socio-economic justice and political
freedom. The topic of new ICTs and their role in political transformation processes towards
more democratic systems is not new. In the following chapter, relevant theoretical ap-
proaches to the role of the WWW regarding political participation and protest mobilization
are presented in order to specify the analytical framework for the empirical study and its
2.2. Internet, Political Participation and Protest Mobilization
Garrett stresses that the variety of theoretical approaches to the topic of social movements
and new ICTs means that there is an abundance of tools available to examine relevant
phenomena. Academics from a wide range of disciplines including social, political and
communication sciences have been studying related questions since the 1980s. It was only
in the mid-1990s, when the topic developed into a refined field of research. A focus of
theoretical and empirical research has been the aspect of `mobilization' including both,
formal and informal social structures. In particular, the tactics of social movements which
specifically "enable individuals to organize and engage in collective action"
have been
analyzed and classified.
Diani defines `social movements' as
"networks of informal interaction between a plurality of individuals, groups and/or
organisations, engaged in a political or cultural conflict on the basis of a shared col-
lective identity"
Furthermore, he differentiates between three types of `social movement organizations'
(SMOs): Besides organizations that are based on either professional resources, there are
transnational networks and, as a third group, organizations that are focused on the mobiliza-
Garrett, Kelly R. (2006): Protest in an Information Society: A Review of Literature on Social Movements
and New ICTs. In: Information, Communication & Society, 9 (2), p. 203
Cf. ibid, p. 203
Diani, Mario (1992): The Concept of Social Movement. In: The Sociological Review, 40 (1), p. 13

tion of participatory resources.
This last type of SMO will be of special interest for the
study of the Egyptian revolution and the role of social media in it.
Participatory levels, according to Garrett, can be increased through ICTs in various ways:
To begin with, they reduce participation costs. In this sense, the internet facilitates and
improves the efficiency of group formation, recruitment and retention by reducing costs for
communication and coordination. Scholars are still arguing whether the empirical results
aiming to prove this claim are sufficient and valid.
Furthermore, ICTs can enhance the creation of a collective identity, which means "a
perception among individuals that they are members of a larger community by virtue of
grievances they share"
. Notably, a collective identity promoted by new technologies has
the potential to be turned into group action. In this respect, existing research results provide
strong evidence for this process concerning both, old and new media.
As a third mechanism, ICTs have the potential to enhance the creation of community in a
two-folded manner. First of all, the internet can strengthen already established connections
while, at the same time, expanding networks to individuals or groups with different
viewpoints. However, there is still very limited knowledge about the quality of these
The distinction of strong and weak ties that network theory is based on, provides a
valuable starting point to further analyze these communities.
Moreover, Garrett recommends taking a closer look at `organizational issues' in order to
understand mobilization tactics. Research suggests that ICTs support traditional SMOs, but
also allow for the creation of innovative forms of social movements, particularly non-
hierarchical, decentralized network organizations. A mixture of traditional centralized
patterns and innovative use of ICTs for collaborative tasks becomes more and more
Cf. Diani, Mario (2000): Social Movement Networks. Virtual and Real. In: Information, Communication &
Society, 3 (3), p. 387
Cf. Garret, K.R. (2006), p. 205
Ibid, p. 205
Cf. ibid, p. 206

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Two different functions of new ICTs are highlighted in this model: On the one side, the
internet has a `facilitation' function. ICTs enhance traditional collective action in the offline
sphere or, in other words, internet-supported protest behavior. On the other side, new
technologies allow for the `creation' of innovative forms of virtual collective action,
meaning innovative types of cyper protest and online forms of traditional offline action.
Hence, these virtual protest activities are internet-based.
Apart from the differentiation between virtual and real forms of protest, Van Laer and Van
Aelst make a distinction between low and high thresholds. This second dimension is
closely related to Garrett's concept of `participation costs'. Thresholds are manifold and
represent the specific reasoning of a movement to use one particular form of action instead
of another, as well as an individual's argument to take part in a protest or not. Practical
costs represent "the amount of resources needed to engage in a particular tactic (e.g. time,
money and skills)"
. Furthermore, there are potential risks involved in using or taking part
in a certain form of protest, for example, being arrested, injured or killed.
Van Laer and Van Aelst point out that public protests are still considered illegal in many
undemocratic societies. Collective action by social movements is viewed as unorthodox and
unconventional political participation that is outside the institutional framework.
ly considering those countries where the threshold for taking part in political protests is
high due to fear of state repression, the internet can effectively reduce barriers by support-
ing the facilitation and coordination of protest events. Such internet-supported protests (2
quadrant) include classical street demonstrations as well as more radical forms of action
such as occuping and blocking public squares.
The `Occupy Wall Street' movement is the
most current example for collective action supported through online communication on a
transnational level.
Cf. Van Laer, Jeroen & Van Aelst, Peter (2009): Cyber-Protest and Civil Society: the Internet and Action
Repertoires of Social Movements. In: Jewkes, Yvonne & Majid, Yar (Eds.): Handbook on Internet Crime.
Universia Press, Portland, p. 231
Ibid, p. 235
Cf. ibid, pp. 231/232
Cf. ibid, pp. 238 ­ 240
Occupy Wall Street is a citizen movement that started with sit-ins in 2011 in the Financial District of
Manhattan in New York. Since then it has spread to over 100 cities in the U.S. and protest activities in more
than 1,500 cities worldwide. (Cf. Website retrieved 06/27/2012: http://occupywallst.org/about/)

With regard to internet-based action (4
quadrant), Van Laer and Van Aelst specify protest
websites and alternative media sites. The `Burma Campaign UK'
and the `McSpotlight'
are just two examples of such campaign websites. Generally this form of cyber
protest applies to any movement, collective or organization that aims to combat social
injustice and gain citizen support through their internet page.
Notably, alternative media sites are similar to protest websites. Their specifc purpose,
however, is to utilize the opportunities that websites provide in order to make alternative
opinions and perspectives about social, political, cultural problems heard.
In addition to
that, new ICTs allow them to bypass mainstream media. `Indymedia'
, one of the first
independent online news sites, pioneered this form of cyber protest.
Loader points out that there is limited evidence for totally new or separate forms of online
protest compared to traditional SMO with strong offline foundations. Thus, he strongly
recommends to analyse the creation of collective identities which are based on social
grievances and alternative viewpoints with which individuals can identify collectively and
which nurture feelings of solidarity. Moreover, he promotes the concept of social move-
ment as networks with specific communication patterns. The perception of a "symbiotic
between ICT and political protest promises to advance the overall field of
Despite the focus of this study on the ways new ICTs enhanced protest mobilization in the
Egyptian revolution, that is, the benefits and strengths of social media as a specific form of
online communication and organization, potential weaknesses of internet-based and
The Burma Campaign UK was founded in 1991 and is one of the leading campaign organizations aiming to
raise awareness about the situation in Burma and to put pressure on the international community to take
action. (Cf. Website retrieved 06/27/2012: http://www.burmacampaign.org.uk/index.php/burma/about-
McSpotlight is an independent organization consisting of a network of volunteers from 16 countries. (Cf.
Website retrieved 06/27/2012: http://www.mcspotlight.org/help.html)
Cf. Van Laer, J. & Van Aelst, P. (2009), p. 242
Cf. ibid, p. 243
Indymedia was created as an independent media center by various alternative media organizations and
activists in 1999 with the goal to provide grassroots coverage of the World Trade Organization (WTO)
protests in Seattle. Today, Indymedia is "a network of collectively run media outlets for the creation of
radical, accurate, and passionate tellings of the truth". (Indymedia: About, Retrieved 06/27/2012:
Loader, Brian (2008): Social Movements and New Media. In: Sociology Compass 2 (6): p. 1930

internet-supported forms of protest shall not be ignored. In this respect, Bennett accentuates
"(t)hat the same qualities that make these communication-based politics durable also make
them vulnerable"
. More concretely, he views the lack of personal relations and the
creation of collective identity as key challenges of today's SMO with a strong online base.
Aside from these `mobilization structures', Garrett views the analysis of `opportunity
structures' as relevant in order to understand the significance of ICTs for protest move-
ments. `Opportunity structures' refer to regulatory aspects and control mechanisms, usually
implemented by the state. Related to this, the "relative accessibility of the political sys-
plays a central role. To put it simply, it has to be asked how democratic the political
system is and what the technological capacities of activists are in order to bypass internet
control and censorship installed by authoritarian governments.
Furthermore, the influence of ICTs on framing processes regarding the public discourse
have become increasingly relevant. Particularly activist media producing and spreading
news that bypass traditional gatekeepers represent a key element in the toolkit of today's
protest movements. Where mainstream media organizations are biased towards authoritari-
an powerholders favoring the status quo, independent online media become a viable
alternative for the audience. Nevertheless, Garrett also notes the inherent risk of fabricated
news and the difficulty to determine the accuracy of information disseminated through
protest networks.
Given the variety of theoretical approaches and disciplines involved in this research area,
Garrett calls for the organization of future reviews and studies to take into account three
essential cornerstones: Mobilizing structures, opportunity structures and framing processes.
This model thus provides the underlying structure of this study. Whereas the theoretical
approach and the empirical study focus on mobilization aspects of social media during the
revolution, the following chapter on the socio-economic and political situation in Egypt
shall provide the necessary context to understand existing opportunity structures and their
limitations before the uprising in January and February 2011. Moreover, the media envi-
ronment is analyzed in order to shed light on control and framing processes.
Bennett, L.W. (2004), p. 145
Garrett, K.R. (2006), p. 211
Cf. ibid, pp. 214 ­ 215

3. The Context: Egypt and its Media System
3.1. Country Profile
Abdallah states that "Egypt's revolution is, to a significant extent, the outcome of the
media's relationship with politics and democracy"
. While it remains to be proven which
role exactly the media and especially social media played, this claim at least underlines the
need to take a closer look at the country's political opportunity structures and socio-
economic development before entering into the empirical part of this research.
3.1.1. Population and Socio-Economic Development
Geographically, Egypt belongs to the region of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)
which spans from Morocco in the West to Iran in the East.
The so-called `Arab Republic
of Egypt' is located between Libya, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gaza Strip.
The country consists of 29 governorates
and is divided into Lower Egypt in the northern
Nile Valley and the Nile Delta of Upper Egypt in the south.
Over 40% of its population live in urban areas with 10 million in the capital Cairo.
Notably, the country's population has more than doubled in the last 40 years from 35
million in 1970
to approximately 81 million in 2011.
A vast majority, namely 90% of the population, are Muslim. There is a minority of around
8 million people with Christian belief. 9% of the total population belong to the Coptic
Orthodox Church and 1% belongs to other Christian groups.
Abdallah, Nagwa (2011): The Role of Media in the Democratic Transition in Egypt: A Case Study of the
January 2011 Revolution, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford. Retrieved
05/09/2011: http://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/fileadmin/documents/Publications/fellows__papers/2010-
Cf. World Bank: MENA. Retrieved 03/19/2012:
Cf. CIA World Factbook: Egypt. Retrieved 08/15/2011: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-
Cf. ibid
Cf. UNFPA: Egypt ­ Indicators. Population and Development in Egypt. Retrieved 08/15/2011:
Cf. CIA World Factbook
World Bank: Egypt, Arab Republic ­ Data. Retrieved 03/19/2012: http://data.worldbank.org/country/egypt-

Copts are one of the oldest and largest Christian communities in the region. They have
suffered from religious discrimination and persecution for centuries.
Sectarian violence
against Copts increased drastically in the year prior to the 2011 revolution in Egypt.
Regarding the economic development of the country, the World Bank emphasizes:
"The region's economic fortunes over much of the past quarter century have been
heavily influenced by two factors ­ the price of oil and the legacy of economic poli-
cies and structures that had emphasized a leading role for the state."
Egypt's oil resources are scarce in relation to its population and its Gross Domestic Product
(GDP). The country produces 600,000 barrels per day, but exports only 89,000. That
means, most of its petroleum as well as its natural gas stays within the domestic market.
Due to the large population this translates only into US$32 per person and thus represents a
significantly low figure when compared to the regional average of US$1,605 per person in
the Middle East.
Political scientists claim that the probability of going through democratic change is much
higher in oil-poor states such as Egypt and Tunisia than in oil-rich countries. Following this
line of argument, it is crucial to inquire about the general status of the national economy,
particularly with regard to the distribution of wealth. To start with, Egypt's economy is the
second in size after Saudi Arabia, depending mainly on agriculture, tourism and remittances
from Egyptians working abroad.
Compared to other countries in the Arab region, Egypt
has a highly diversified and developed economy.
After a period of aggressive economic
reforms opening the market to foreign investments between 2004 and 2008, the Egyptian
economy has, especially since the global financial crisis, experienced a constant decline.
Due to rising budget deficits and a decline in export revenues and income from the Suez
Cf. Ibrahim, Saad Eddin, Tadros, Marylin R.I., El-Fiki, Mohammed Anwar & Soliman, Soliman Shafik
(1996): The Copts of Egypt. Minority Rights Group International/Ibn Khaldoun Centre for Development
Studies, Cairo, p. 5
PBS Online (February 26
, 2010): Egypt's Coptic Tension. Retrieved 03/19/2012:
Cf. World Bank: MENA
Cf. Silver, Nate (January 31st, 2011): Egypt, Oil and Democracy. In: Five Thirty Eight. Nate's Political
Calculus, New York Times Blogs. Retrieved 05/14/2012:
Cf. BBC: Egypt Country Profile. Retrieved 08/15/2011:
Cf. Trading Economics: Egypt's GINI Index. Retrieved 03/19/2012:

canal, the GDP growth fell to 4.6% in 2009. However, in 2011 public investments in
infrastructure and exports lifted the GDP growth rate back up to 5%.
The UNFPA describes Egypt as a `middle-income country'
with a Gross National Income
(GNI) of US$2,070 in 2009.
Nevertheless, per capita income remained unequally distrib-
uted. The most current Gini index available for 2005 shows a considerably high inequality
of income distribution.
The lowest 10% receive only 3.9% of all household income,
whereas the highest 10% consume almost one third of it.
Egypt's Human Development Index (HDI) has witnessed a steady improvement over
previous years reaching a value of 0.644 in 2010. Even though it lies above the regional
average of all Arab countries (0.641), the country ranked only 113 out of 187 assessed
nations in 2010.
More importantly, the recently introduced `inequality adjusted HDI' (IHDI) specifically
highlights the nation's inequality in regards to income distribution, life expectancy and
access to knowledge. In fact, the HDI experiences a loss of 24.1% after discounting for
inequalities in the three dimensions it is comprised of. This means there is a great gap
between `potential' and `actual' human development in Egypt.
Essentially, still about a quarter of the Egyptian population live in poor conditions.
Whereas in 2008 approximately 20% of all Egyptians lived below the poverty line, the
share of those people living of less than a few dollars per day has risen in recent years.
Regarding basic education, one of the Millenium Development Goals (MDG), the UNDP
acknowledges Egypt's progress. More than a quarter of young Egyptians between 18 and
Cf. CIA World Factbook: Egypt
Cf. UNFPA: Egypt ­ Indicators
Cf. World Bank: ICT At-a-Glance. Retrieved 06/27/2012: http://devdata.worldbank.org/ict/egy_ict.pdf
Cf. Trading Economics (Gini index of 32.14)
Cf. CIA World Factbook: Egypt
Cf. UNDP: International Human Development Indicators. Egypt. Retrieved 03/19/2012:
Cf. UNDP (2011): Human Development Report 2011. Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All.
Explanatory Note on 2011 HDR Composite Indices. Egypt. Retrieved 03/19/2012:
http://hdrstats.undp.org/images/explanations/EGY.pdf, pp. 3 ­ 4
Cf. UNDP: International Human Development Indicators

29, however, have not finished primary school or a lower secondary level education.
the years leading up to the revolution, the government spent a meagre 4% of its GDP on
Gender inequalities in the education sector continue to be another concerning issue: With
13%, the proportion of women between the ages of 10 and 29, who have never visited a
school, is reported to be more than four times as high as for males in the same age-break.
Not surprisingly, gender inequalities are also significant concerning illiteracy rates. In
2005, over 40% of the female population were not capable of reading and writing, whereas
the vast majority of men (83%) are considered literate.
At the time of the revolution an
estimated 43,6% of the total population over 15 was illiterate.
Out of Egyptians under the
age of 30, a quarter did not know how to read and write.
The UNFPA emphasizes that "the underlying contextual determinants of several evolving
development issues in Egypt are population related"
. It has to be emphasized that Egypt,
similar to other countries in the region, is a remarkably young nation. According to the
2006 census, around 40% of Egyptians are between the ages of 10 and 29.
The most
recent median age is 24.
Theoretically, these demographics of a small proportion of old people and a large work-
force consisting of young people amount to a huge potential for the socio-economic
development of a country. However, unemployment rates have been continuously increas-
ing in recent years, reaching almost 9% in 2008.
In 2009, the share of those without work
rose to 9.4% and was estimated to further increase to 9.7% in 2010.
The outlined gender
gap of illiteracy rates is also reflected in the job market: 84% of the all unemployed
Cf. UNDP (2010): Egypt Human Development Report 2010. Youth in Egypt: Building our Future.
Retrieved 11/07/2011: http://www.undp.org.eg/Portals/0/NHDR%202010%20english.pdf, p. 44
Cf. UNDP: International Human Development Indicators; Cf. CIA World Fact Book
Cf. CIA World Factbook
Cf. UNDP (2011): Human Development Report 2011
Cf. UNICEF (2010): Child Poverty and Disparities in Egypt. Building the Social Infrastructure for Egypt's
Future 2010, p. 27
UNFPA: Egypt ­ Indicators
Cf. ibid
Cf. CIA World Factbook
Cf. UNICEF (2010), p. 24
Cf. CIA World Factbook

nationals were women.
Unemployed youth comprised about one fifth of the total popula-
In this context, a recent UNICEF report states that the vast majority of young people
without employment have completed secondary or higher education, which highlights the
"severe disconnect between the skills and expectations of the young workers and the
availability of jobs"
. Abdallah estimates that per year, approximately 700,000 new
graduates compete over 200,000 available jobs.
Despite the demographic potentials,
Egypt had to carry the burden of a rising number of young people becoming socially and
economically marginalized in a growing global market. Essentially, the large amount of
young people under 30 imposed massive pressure on the labor market and the country's
social welfare system. Increasing unemployment rates especially among youth and women
have to be accentuated as a major challenge to the country's overall development in recent
The Survey of Young People in Egypt (SYPE) from 2010 reports that most young Egyp-
tians in the country did not engage in social issues through civil participation such as
volunteering or being a member of civil society groups. Apart from this social disengage-
ment, young people also turned out to be politically inactive. With 19%, young people with
a middle class background showed the highest turnout of voters. In comparison, 17% of
youth from the wealthiest segment of households and only 13% of young people coming
from the poorest families took part in political elections. Furthermore, political participa-
tion is significantly higher among young men contrasted to female youth. According to the
UNFPA, young men are twice as likely to participate in elections by giving their vote than
their female counterparts.
Another driving factor to have in mind when analyzing the Egyptian revolution and its
roots are high levels of corruption. In a "marriage between business men and power"
Cf. UNICEF (2010), p. 27
Cf. ibid, p. 24
Ibid, p. 24
Cf. Abdallah, N. (2011), p. 17
Cf. UNFPA: Egypt ­ Indicators
Cf. ibid
Abdallah, N. (2011), p. 12

exemptions, monopolies and other benefits have been traded, and government officials,
especially members of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), have accumulated
incredible wealth over the last decades while the country's poverty levels remained high.
Abdallah states that Mubarak's family fortune is estimated to have reached US$ 70 billion.
The Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies claims to hold evidence that "47%
of small and medium businesses in Egypt were forced to offer government clerks cash
in exchange for business licences and to the prevention of fines. Additionally, the
institute asserts that the country's anti-corruption agency did not effectively investigated
charges of corruption filed against state officials. This type of economic corruption is
closely linked to the question of political corruption. In the next chapter, the main charac-
teristics of Egypt's political system shall be outlined with a focus on human rights aspects
and political participation based on the given electoral institutions and processes under
3.1.2. Political Environment and Human Rights
Before the Egyptian revolution and the subsequent transformation process, the govern-
ment's legislative branch was based on a bicameral system consisting of the Shura Council,
also called the Advisory Council or Upper House, with 264 seats, and the People's Assem-
bly or Lower House with 518 delegates. Whereas the latter is almost entirely elected by
popular vote, about one third of the Shura Council is appointed by the Chief of State. The
country's constitution and legal system is mainly based on Islamic Sharia law, but also
partly refers to the French civil code.
Emergency Law was established in 1967 and continued to be in effect after Mubarak
stepped into the presidential office in 1981 following Anwar Sadat's assassination.
Abdallah considers the continuing State of Emergency a driving factor in the revolution
which significantly added to the rising dissatisfaction of the population. More concretely,
common practices justified by Emergency Law included the trial of citizens in front of the
Military Court and so-called `Special Courts' without fair trial standards, indefinite and
Ibid, p. 14
Cf. CIA World Factbook
Cf. BBC Egypt Country profile

arbitrary detention, violation of such basic rights as freedom of assembly and the use of
torture in police stations and prisons.
Not surprisingly, the human rights situation in Egypt had been problematic for many years.
Human Right Watch (HRW) reported violent crackdowns of peaceful demonstrations by
security officers. To give an example, during the protests of the parliamentary elections in
June 2010 more than 100 people were arrested in only one day. The banned Muslim
brotherhood, political activists, bloggers and journalists became defined targets for the
Apart from the Muslim Brotherhood, the main political opposition groups in Egypt before
the revolution included civil society groups, trade unions and professional associations.
Throughout the decade of the 2000s opposition movements gained unknown popular
support and increasingly used new online communication tools in Egypt. According to
Freedom House, in 2004 "a consensus emerged among leftist, liberal, and Islamist political
forces as to the components of political reforms"
calling for multicandidate, free and fair
presidential elections, the end of the State of Emergency and less restrictions for opposition
groups and civil society organizations. During the same year, the Egyptian Movement for
Change with the name `Kefaya'
initiated the first street protest demanding the Chief of
State to resign. More generally, the opposition group expressed their opposition against
police brutality and Emergency Law.
Throughout the following years, waves of workers' protests and strikes hit the country and
peaked in the year before the revolution.
In 2008, the so-called `April 6 Youth Move-
ment' gathered to support the workers of El-Mahalla El-Kubra, an agricultural and industri-
Cf. Abdallah, N. (2011), p. 17
Cf. Human Rights Watch (2011): World Report 2011: Egypt. Retrieved 03/19/2012:
Cf. CIA World Factbook, Egypt Country Profile. Retrieved 03/19/2012:
Freedom House (2011): Freedom in the World. Egypt, Retrieved 03/22/2012:
Egyptian Arabic for `Enough'
Cf. Amnesty International: Annual Report 2011. Egypt. Retrieved 03/19/2012:
http://www.amnesty.org/en/region/egypt/report-2011; Human Rights Watch (2012): World Report 2012.
Events of 2011. Retrieved 03/19/2012: http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/wr2012.pdf, p. 25
Cf. Human Rights Watch (2011)

al town in Northern Egypt.
Violent reactions by security forces disrupted the gatherings,
portraying the insufficient labor rights situation. Both Amnesty International and Human
Rights Watch reported further deterioriation of religious freedom, discrimination of
homosexuals, forced evictions and the killing of refugees and migrants aiming to migrate to
After the contested 2005 elections of the People's Assembly, legislative changes remained
without effect, despite president Mubarak promising political reforms towards a more
democratic system. Article 76 of the Egyptian Constitution was amended in order to allow
multiple candidates to run for presidency. However, as the HRW electoral report claims, it
"sharply restricts who may run"
. Under Mubarak, both new and existing opposition
parties faced barriers in regards to funding and licensing controlled by the state-run
Political Parties Affairs Committee. Abdallah infers that "the regime not only sought to
avoid public accountability, but also to undermine the possibility of another political party
developing into a position"
which could effectively challenge the status quo.
Presidential candidates from parties other than Mubarak's ruling NDP also faced remaining
hurdles. Their party had to be in existence for at least five years and hold a minimum of 3%
of the seats in both the Upper and the Lower House. Additionally, each candidate had to be
endorsed by at least 250 elected members of both houses as well as the governorate
Hence, Article 76 and other constitutional amendments made in the following
years, only theoretically provided for opposition parties to present candidates. The re-
strictions made the independent candidacy of political white hopes such as El Baradei,
former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), practically impossible.
Regarding Egypt's voting system before the political reforms that were implemented after
the 2011 revolution, Freedom House affirmed: "Egypt is not an electoral democracy"
According to the Economist's Democracy Index for 2010, the political system under
Cf. Ali, A. H. (2011), pp. 209/210
Cf. Amnesty International; Cf. Human Rights Watch (2011)
Human Rights Watch (2010): Elections in Egypt. State of Permanent Emergency Incompatible with Free
and Fair Vote. Retrieved 03/19/2012:
http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/egypt1110WebforPosting.pdf, p. 2
Abdallah, N. (2011), p. 14
Cf. Human Rights Watch (2010), p. 2
Freedom House (2011): Freedom in the World. Egypt

Mubarak can be classified as an authoritarian regime. With a score of 3.07 on a scale from
0 to 10, Egypt shares the ranks with countries such as Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Algeria and
Number 112 on the list, Egypt is located at the bottom of the table of 167
countries and two territories assessed in 2010. With a notably low score of 0.83, the state of
the electoral system in Egypt is outlined as particularly problematic.
Besides the restriction of opposition parties, HRW emphasizes that the continuing rule of
Emergency Law in Egypt did not allow for a fair and independent electoral process. With
foresight to the parliamentary elections, the organization predicted intensified restrictions
of freedom of assembly, association and expression as well as media censorship and
crackdowns including the detention of activists and journalists.
Moreover, the lack of independent monitoring of electoral procedures was seen as incom-
patible with democratic values. The effectiveness of the recent establishment of the High
Elections Commission (HEC) acclaimed to have enabled independent supervision of the
electoral process, is arguable due to a severe lack of transparency and preponderant refusal
of monitoring requests by independent civil society organizations. Finally, the Mubarak
government introduced a new law allocating 64 seats to women in the People's Assembly
which at least encouraged female voters' participation.
The overall predictions of fraudulent parliamentary elections and violent crackdowns on
dissidents turned out to be true. The NDP officially won 420 seats of the People's Assem-
bly in November 2010. As a consequence, Mohamed El Baradei received support from
different political camps and formed the non-partisan movement National Association for
Change (NAC), which called for an electoral reform.
Popular discontent and political
tensions grew drastically in late 2010 and unfolded into what is today referred to as the 18-
day-revolution. Abdalla even speaks of a turning point and a "catalyst for the 25 January
Cf. Economist Intelligence Unit (2010): Democracy Index. Democracy in Retreat, pp. 13/14
Cf. ibid, pp. 1 ­ 8; The Economist's Democracy Index is built on five dimensions including political
culture, political participation, functioning of government and, electoral process and pluralism.
Cf. Human Rights Watch (2010)
Cf. ibid, pp. 2/3
Cf. Freedom House (2012) Freedom in the World. Egypt. Retrieved 05/01/2012:

that urged president Mubarak, who had been ruling the country for three
decades, to resign on February 11
, 2011.
3.1.3. Timeline of the Egyptian Revolution
There are many interpretations of the term `revolution'. According to the Oxford English
Dictionary, it can be defined as "a forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in
favour of a new system"
. For the aim of this study, the Egyptian revolution shall be
specified as the period from the first street demonstrations on January 25
until the fall of
the Mubarak regime on February 11
, 2011. The following description of the key events is
based on timelines provided by the two international broadcasters that reported extensively
on the revolution, BBC and Deutsche Welle World.
On December 17
, 2010 fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi burned himself on a public square
in the impoverished Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzidin in protest of a lack of respect and
opportunity. The self-immolation of this 26-year-old college graduate sparked mass
demonstrations across the country and eventually forced its authoritarian president Zine El-
Abidine Ben Ali to leave his office and the country after more than 20 years of authoritari-
an rule.
In the year leading up to the Arab revolutions, also the Egyptian opposition movement
began to gather around the fate of a fellow citizen, named Khaled Said. The mass demon-
strations that started on January 25
were announced through a Facebook page named after
the young man from Alexandria: `We Are All Khaled Said'. Reportedly, the 28-year-old
man had been brutally beaten and killed by police officers in June 2010 after posting a
video showing security officers sharing drugs from a raid. The prominent case of Khaled
Said sparked a nation-wide wave of protest.
According to media reports, the Facebook
Abdallah, N. (2011), p. 9
Oxford Dictionaires: Revolution. Retrieved 06/12/2012: http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/revolution
Cf. BBC News Middle East: Egypt protests: Key Moment in Unrest. Retrieved 08/15/2012,
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12425375; Cf. Deutsche Welle World: Timeline of the
Revolution in Egypt. Retrieved 05/12/2012: http://www.dw-akademie.de/dw/article/0,,14837364,00.html
Cf. Howard, Philip N. & Hussain, Muzammil M. (2011): The Upheavals in Egypt and Tunisia. The Role
of Digital Media. In: Journal of Democracy, 22 (3). National Endowment for Democracy and The Johns
Hopkins University Press: pp. 35 ­ 48
Cf. Freedom House (2012); Cf. Abdallah, N. (2011), p. 35

page was founded and run by Wael Ghonim, a young Google marketing executive.
The events in Egypt unfolded only eleven days after the success of the Tunisian revolution
which resulted in the resignation of president Ben Ali on January 14
: On January 25
thousands of Egyptians go to the streets to protest in front of the foreign ministry, the
headquarters of the ruling NDP and the state broadcasting station. Apart from the famous
Tahrir Square in central Cairo, mass demonstrations are also held in other cities throughout
the country. The first day of the Egyptian revolution becomes known as the `Day of Rage'.
Despite violent crackdowns by security forces and a widely ignored curfew, mass demon-
strations continue on January 28
As the BBC reports, the number of protesters amounted
to several ten thousands demanding Mubarak to step down. In response, president Mubarak
dissolves his cabinet and expresses his understanding of the protesters' dissatisfaction in a
televised speech. The government blocks internet access and cuts off mobile phone connec-
tion after shutting down the social media platforms Facebook and Twitter the day before.
Opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, El Baradei, is put under house arrest and
the armed forces are deployed. At least 26 people are killed in violent clashes within the
first three days of the revolution.
On January 29
, Mubarak forms a new government. Deutsche Welle World highlights that
for the first time after three decades in power, Mubarak appoints a vice president: Omar
Suleiman, the head of national intelligence agency. Ahmed Schafik becomes prime minis-
Two days later, on January 31
, Mubarak officially rejects the protesters' demands for him
to resign. However, the government indicates its willingness to enter into a dialogue about
political reforms. Meanwhile, the protest movement calls for a general strike and mass
demonstrations for the following day. The international broadcaster Al Jazeera reports
"massive disruptions to its coverage"
. The Security Council of the Armed Forces
Cf. Vargas, Jose Antonio (February 17
, 2012): Spring Awakening. How an Egyptian Revolution Began
on Facebook. In: New York Times Online. Retrieved at 06/27/2012:
Deutsche Welle World

(SCAF), the governing body of the Egyptian military, expresses its recognition of the
population's right to protest and refuses to use force.
The protests on February 1
"bring() the power struggle to a boiling point"
, reports
Deutsche Welle World. Following estimations, the so-called `March of a Million' brings
several hundred thousand Egyptians to public squares including women and children. In
another TV address, Mubarak guarantees that he will not run again for presidency in
September 2011. Protesters, however, are not satisfied with this concession and keep up
their demand that the president should resign by Friday, February 4
, the `Day of Depar-
The February 2
street battles break out between government supporters on camels and
horseback, and the opposition on the ground. The security forces do not interfere in the
clashes. On the same day, online connections are restored.
On February 4
, after two days of increasing violence, the protests continue with a peaceful
occupation of Tahrir Square. Protesters are waiting for the president to depart and the
international community demands an immediate change of government. Yet, Mubarak still
remains in power.
A day later, on February 5
, several NDP officials step down including Hosni Mubarak's
son Gamal Mubarak, who was expected to step into his father's position.
On February 8
and 9
, the revolutionary protests "swell to the largest demonstrations
, Deutsche Welle reports. Trade unions join the peaceful mass protests and nation-
wide workers' strikes are held.
In a third televised address on February 10
, Mubarak sparks outrage in demonstrators by
insisting to remain in office until his presidential term finishes, aiming to guarantee a
smooth transition based on free and fair elections.
Egypt State Information Service: Formation of the Armed Forces Supreme Council. Retrieved 06/20/2012:
Deutsche Welle World

On February 11
, 18 days after the first time Egyptians took to the streets in masses,
demonstrations once more increase in numbers and expand to even more public squares all
throughout Egypt. In Cairo, the protesters gather outside the presidential palace. Finally,
later in the day, vice-president Suleiman announces Mubarak's resignation, which is to take
immediate effect. Freedom House states 800 as the total number of casualities.
3.2. Media Landscape
3.2.1. Media Freedom and Control
Egypt can be considered a major player in the Arab region with respect to all fields of
First of all, the country represents the biggest newspaper market with some of the
oldest newspapers in the world.
The reach of newspapers has sunken from 9.2% to 6.4%
between 2000 and 2006. Despite these substantial losses, El Gody outlines the large
number and the wide circulation of Egyptian print publications compared to other countries
in the MENA region. The daily national newspaper Al Ahram, for example, printed
600,000 copies per day in 2008.
Furthermore, Egypt has a strong film and TV production industry. After decades of holding
a monopoly for broadcast media, the government created the media production center and
free trade zone `6
of October City'. In order to attract foreign business, investments in this
area over US$ 1 billion are tax-free.
As a result, the country is often referred to as the
`Hollywood of the Orient' and Egyptian TV programs are distributed widely in the Arab
Egypt's media system has always reflected its political development. As El Gody states, the
media landscape under Mubarak was probably the most `free' since the fall of the Mo-
hamed Ali-monarchy in 1952, at least in an economic sense. Technological innovations,
especially the rise of electronic and digital media required Egypt's government to acceler-
Cf. Freedom House (2012)
Cf. BBC News Middle East
Cf. Dubai Press Club (2010): Arab Media Outlook 2009 ­ 2013. Inspiring Local Content. Retrieved
04/24/2012: http://www.fas.org/irp/eprint/arabmedia.pdf
Cf. El Gody, A. (2009), pp. 732 ­ 736
Cf. ibid, pp. 739/745; Cf. Cambanis, Thanassis (August 24
, 2010): To Catch Cairo Overflow, 2 Megaci-
ties Rise in Sand. In: New York Times. Retrieved 05/02/2012:
Cf. El Gody, A. (2009), p. 732

ate the process of liberalization. Mubarak opened the market allowing necessary competi-
tion with private and international media. As a side effect, the loosening of state control
also enabled opposition parties to appear in public. However, while the independent
opposition press was re-introduced to create the idea of democratic media, the Mubarak
regime also continued a long history of media control and restrictions of media freedom.
Article 47 and 48 of the Egyptian constitution formally guarantee freedom of expression
and freedom of press. Under Mubarak, relevant rights were also enshrined in Egyptian
criminal and libel law. Moreover, specific laws for press and electronic media provided
legal grounds to protect independent journalistic practice.
Although press freedom had improved throughout the last decades, it remained under
significant constraints, especially through a variety of social codices utilized to limit the
freedom of journalists as well as entire media organizations. Effectively, criticism of the
government and state representatives could lead to significant financial penalties or even
imprisonment. In addition to this, over 30 articles from the aforementioned Emergency Law
(Chapter 3.1.2.), the country's penal code and particular press laws allowed for the denten-
tion of journalists "for such vague offences as `threatening national security'"
, as
Abdallah puts it.
Not surprisingly, in the year before the revolution, Reporters Without Borders ranked Egypt
127 out of 169 countries for violations of press freedom.
By virtue of the brutal crack-
downs during the parliamentary elections at the end of 2010, Egypt's status of press
freedom, following the rating system of Freedom House, changed from `Partly Free' to
`Not Free'. The human rights organization stresses that repressions included not only
Cf. ibid, p. 734
Cf. El Gody, A. (2009); Cf. IREX (2011): Media Sustainability Index 2009. The Development of
Sustainable Independent Media in the Middle East and North Africa. Egypt. Retrieved 03/20/2012:
http://www.irex.org/system/files/MENA_MSI_2009_Full.pdf, 20 March 2011, p. 13
Abdallah, N. (2011), p. 28
Cf. Reporters Without Borders: 2010 World Press Freedom Index. Retrieved 03/22/2012:
p. 17

physical attacks and arbitrary arrests of journalists, but they also led to an increase of
already existing self-censorship.
Apart from restricting journalists in their day-to-day work, the Mubarak government tightly
controlled the licensing process. As head of the Supreme Press Council, the president
personally approved all newspaper licenses.
El Gody emphasizes that Mubarak himself
directly appointed the Editors in Chief of these publications.
As a consequence, direct
censorship was limited, or in other words, not necessary as state-controlled newspapers
voluntarily followed the political agenda, avoided taboo topics and kept government
criticism to a low level.
Considering broadcast media, the Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU) has been
granting licenses since 1971. Under Mubarak, the Ministry of Information owned all state
broadcasting stations and held shares of various private channels. State radio has tradition-
ally dominated the market with 70 stations compared to only two private radio channels.
Additionally, two national and six regional terrestrial state TV channels were run by the
government. The first private television stations were Dream TV 1 and 2 and Mehwar
With the introduction of Nilesat in 1998, Egypt was the first country in the region to have
its own satellite offering a vast array of satellite TV channels. Although Mubarak promoted
privatization and opened the market up to international investors, due to strict control of
licenses and news production, the audiences increasingly switched to foreign channels such
as Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and the MBC.
Throughout the last years of Mubarak's regime, and especially in the lead up to the elec-
tions of the People's Assembly in November 2010, media outlets were increasingly
scrutinized for the content they published and faced severe restrictions as a consequence.
The case of Ibrahim Eissa has been frequently referred to as a prominent and drastic
Cf. Freedom House (2012): Freedom in the World. Egypt
Cf. Freedom House (2011): Freedom of the Press. Egypt. Retrieved 03/22/2012:
Cf. El Gody, A. (2009), p. 733
Cf. ibid, p. 736
Cf. CIA World Factbook
Cf. El Gody, A. (2009), p. 745

example of censorship in Egypt. In 2008, Eissa was fired as the Editor in Chief of the
independent opposition newspaper, Al Dustour, and sentenced to two years imprisonment
after being accused of defaming the president and the publication of false information about
Mubarak's health status, which ostensibly impacted on stock market investments.
One month before the vote, in October 2010, control of private satellite channels was
tightened in several respects. As Freedom House reports, several political programs,
including the popular talk shows Al-Qahira Al-Youm and Eissa's Baladna Belmasry, were
cancelled and four channels were shut down.
In addition to that, the National Telecom-
munication Regulatory Authority (NTRA) effectively prohibited live coverage of the
electoral race on private channels, which provided news to domestic and international
broadcasters. Furthermore, the government stopped transmission for at least a dozen
satellite television stations. A minimum of 20 more received warnings.
Although there were over 500 print publications available on the Egyptian media market at
the time of the Egyptian revolution in 2011, Freedom House warns that "this apparent
diversity disguises the government's role as a media owner and sponsor"
. It is worth
highlighting that under Mubarak the government had considerable ownership of the three
biggest newspapers at the time: Al Ahram, Al Akhbar and Al Gomhuriya. Apart from
owning the majority of print publications, both, the production and distribution process
were tightly controlled by the regime.
Notably, the Middle East News Agency (MENA)
is considered the largest news agency in the region and the only one in Egypt
whichisowned and directly controlled by the government.
Taking on a more optimistic perspective, in its Media Sustainability Index (MSI) report, the
non-profit organization IREX claims that the plurality of media in Egypt has been increas-
ing along with the emergence and growing influence of online and satellite media.
During Mubarak's rule, the Egyptian constitution required any publication to be issued by a
Cf. El Gody, A. (2009), p. 735; Cf. Freedom House (2011): Freedom in the World. Egypt; Cf. IREX
Cf. Freedom House (2011): Freedom in the World. Egypt
Cf. Freedom House (2011): Freedom of the Press. Egypt
Cf. Ibid
Cf. El Gody, A. (2009), p. 736
Cf. IREX, p.17

political party, a non-governmental organization (NGO) or a registered society. Based on
these legal requirements and the rise of the internet, the country witnessed a wave of
independent media start ups in recent years spearheaded by the next generation of journal-
ists, who neither identified with the centralized government nor the weak opposition
On these grounds, innovative print publications and alternative news websites provided the
audience with an increasing diversity of topics, formats and perspectives to select from in
recent years, enabling them to be "more capable of following societal issues than in the
. The rise of the daily newspaper Al Masry Al Youm, which entered the market in
2004, is probably the most illustrative example.
The privately owned publication has
outstripped other newspapers in record speed ranking third in circulation after the two
leading state papers within only three years of existence.
A recent survey of the Arab Advisory Group on `Internet Use and Online Advertising
Consumption and Effectiveness in Egypt' highlights the rising popularity of online news
with the audience moving from traditional news media to the internet. Out of 3,348
Egyptians taking part in the survey, 50% use online newspapers compared to 34% using
offline sources. This change is most prominent in Egypt when compared to other countries
such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE or Jordan.
In summary, Egyptian media have experienced a remarkable shift towards "emerging
satellite networks, independent newspapers, and news websites compromising the regime's
control over the media"
. New investigative forms of journalism and long-oppressed
topics including minority rights and corruption arrived in Egypt long before the 2011
revolution. Most importantly, independent online media have provided unseen opportuni-
ties to empower civil society and facilitate political participation for many years.
Cf. El Gody, A. (2009)
IREX (2011), p. 17
Cf. Egypt Independent: About Al-Masry Al-Youm. Retrieved 07/12/2012:
Cf. El Gody, A. (2009), p. 737
Cf. Ghannam, Jeffrey (2011): Social Media in the Arab World: Leading up to the Uprisings of 2011. A
Report to the Centre of International Media Assistance. CIMA/NED, Washington D.C., p. 12
IREX, p. 11
Cf. El Gody, A. (2009), p. 747 - 749

role of the internet and especially social media in Egypt shall be further examined in the
following overview and in the empirical study focusing on the 18-day revolution (Chapter
3.2.2. Internet and Social Media
Looking at the region as a whole, the Arab Knowledge Report estimates that there were 60
million internet users in early 2008.
Wael Ghonim, former Google executive and founder
of the Facebook page `We Are All Khaled Said', predicts that the number will have reached
the 100 million mark by 2015.
Social media use has been growing worldwide with the Arab countries contributing the
largest shares of new users. In the year before the Egyptian uprising, the number of
Facebook users in the region increased significantly from 14 million in April 2010 to 21
million at the beginning of 2011. Youth between 15 and 29 years make up 70% of all Arab
Facebook users. Despite a slight increase, the proportion of female users is relatively low
with 33,5%, compared to the global trend of 61%. Egypt alone represents about a quarter of
total Facebook users in the Arab region.
The Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) points out that "Arab governments
are developing, at varying rates, the telecommunications infrastructure for greater Internet
connectivity through broadband, mobile Internet and fiber optic cable to the home"
. As
in many other respects, Egypt is considered a leader in the region regarding internet access.
The first e-mail services were introduced for educational purposes in 1993 at the University
of Cairo and in several government departments. Although until 1996, internet usage was
very low due to slow connections, internet speed has increased more than 20-fold since
Furthermore, the number of internet users in Egypt reached 11.4 million in 2008,
Cf. UNDP & Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation (2009): Arab Knowledge Report. Towards
Productive Intercommunication for Knowledge. Al Ghurai Printing and Publishing House L.L.A., Dubai.
Retrieved 04/24/2012: www.mbrfoundation.ae/English/pages/AKR2009.aspx, p. 149
Cf. Wael Ghonim speaking at event in Egypt on December 12, 2010. In: Arab Crunch. Retrieved
03/19/2012: http://arabcrunch.com/2010/12/google-mena-ad-spending-is-between-110-130-million-usd-in-
Cf. Salem, Fadi & Mourtada, Racha (2011a): Arab Social Media Report. Vol. 1, No. 2, Dubai School of
Government: Retrieved 09/05/2011: http://www.dsg.ae/en/ASMR2/ASMRHome2.aspx
Ghannam, J. (2011), p. 7
Cf. El Gody, A. (2009), pp. 745/746

which means an increase of 400% within three years.
Nevertheless, Freedom House
emphasizes that only slightly more than a quarter of the Egyptian population had regular
online access by the end of 2010.
El Gody claims that major investments in ICT infrastucture laid the foundations for a
strong online community that has emerged in Egypt especially throughout the last decade.
Comparable to the electronic media sector, Mubarak opened up the market for private
telecommunication companies to compete with global market players. An important step
towards market liberalization and de-regulation was the announcement of the `National
Information Highway' project. In 1999, the IT sector was declared a national priority due to
its stimulating effects that led to sustainable economic growth. A new Ministry of Commu-
nication and Information Technology (MCIT) was formed to promote a strong, export-
driven IT industry. The government's declared goal was to support the development of a
national telecommunication network and to turn Egypt into an attractive business location
for foreign investments. Today, many international IT firms have offices in the `Egypt
Smart Village'. Moreover, the government established 600 Internet cafés in rural areas in
2001 with the aim to provide free internet access to all. Another ambitious project of the
Mubarak government was the `One Computer for Each Household' initiative offering loans
to private households which could be paid back in small instalments.
Concerning internet speed, Egypt continues to have a relatively low broadband penetration
rate. In 2009, only 7,4% of the population had access to fast internet compared to higher
rates in other Arab countries. In contrast to that, mobile telephony (72%) and TV penetra-
tion (93%) was rather high.
Ghannam points out that Egypt can be considered "the leader in social media activism just
by sheer numbers"
. Nearly 5 million Egyptians used the social networking platform
Facebook in early 2011. As already denoted in the previous chapter, online news sites and
Cf. ibid, pp. 745/746
Cf. Freedom House (2011): Freedom of the Press. Egypt
Cf. El Gody, A. (2009), pp. 745/746
Cf. Dubai Press Club (2010), p. 83
Cf. Ghannam, J. (2011), p. 6

blogs began to reveal the potential of social media in scrutinizing state controlled media in
the years leading up to the revolutionary protests.
In particular, the emergence of the Egyptian blogosphere played a crucial role in presenting
a new way of expressing alternative and critical viewpoints next to politically aligned
Being the largest of the Arab countries, Egypt also has the biggest blogger
community in the region. Etling et al identified a network of around 35,000 blogs in the
Arabic language in 2009, with Egypt proving to have a far bigger cluster than most other
countries in the region.
Radsch further highlights that Egypt's blogosphere is distinct
from its regional counterparts. Whereas the majority of Arab blogs are personal, Egyptian
blogs are politically motivated. They can be described as "a realm claimed by individuals
who resist the establishment"
According to Radsch, the Egyptian bloggers entered an initial phase of experimentation in
2003 and became more active by 2006. This was followed by a period of diversification
and fragmentation.
Apart from the Muslim Brotherhood, other opposition groups also
gained more influence mirroring the emergence of the Egyptian protest movement. Blog-
ging dissidents included `Secular Reformists' such as the `Kefaya' movement. Moreover,
liberal voices like the sub-clusters `Egyptian Youth' and `Wider Opposition' determined
Egypt's blogosphere. Notably, the Egyptian youth cluster has the largest share of female
In this context, Howard et al stress that in Egypt, Tunisia and other countries in the region a
large number of active and tech-savy advocates of democracy already existed prior to the
mass protests in early 2011. Alternative news sites, blogs and other social media platforms
Cf. ibid, p. 5
Cf. ibid, p. 6
Cf. Etling, Bruce, Kelly, John, Faris, Robert & Palfrey, John (2009): Mapping the Arab Blogosphere.
Politics, Culture, and Dissident. In: Berkman Centre Research Publication, No. 2009-06. Internet & Democra-
cy Project, The Berkman Centre for Internet Research & Society, Harvard University. Retrieved 08/18/2010:
Radsch, Courtney (2008): Core to Common Place: Egypt's Blogosphere. In: Arab Media & Society
(Feature Article). The Middle East Centre, St. Anthony's College, University of Oxford, p. 11
Cf. ibid, p. 1
Cf. Etling et al (2009), pp. 15 ­ 19

gained an increased amount of attention and can be viewed as a "virtual ecology of civil
society groups that debate contentious issues"
Notably, also government officials increasingly made use of social media, in particular
Facebook. Hosni Mubarak's son and presidential candidate, Gamal Mubarak, launched his
own Facebook campaign "competing with the outpouring of Facebook fan support for
Nobel Prize laureate Mohamed El Baradei"
. Essentially, the general increase of social
media for civil mobilization is true for both opposition groups and the government alike. As
a consequence, the rise of online media was paralleled with the increasing efforts of the
regime to control internet sites and online activism.
In order to control cyber activism, the Egyptian government, however, did not opt for the
blocking ofentire websites, but concentrated their efforts on internet surveillance and real-
life harassment of journalists, online activists, bloggers and human rights defenders.
Freedom House estimates that 1,000 bloggers, citizen journalists and other activists were
detained in the lead up to the 2010 parliamentary elections.
On a global scale, together
with five other Arab countries, Egypt has been nominated as one of the ten worst countries
to be a blogger by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Although some bloggers
such as famous Abdel Karim Nabil Suleiman were released after years of imprisonment in
2010, online activists are continuously confronted with severe measures of repression.
According to Abdallah, the Department for Confronting Computer and Internet Crime
specifically targeted bloggers under the supervision of the Interior Ministry.
reports claim that the interior minister under Mubarak employed 45 people to monitor
Even though government policies to restrict internet freedom were tightened
Howard, Philip. N., Duffy, Aiden, Freelon, Deen, Muzammil, Hussain, Mari, Will & Mazaid, Marva
(2011): Opening Closed Regimes: What Was the Role of Social Media During the Arab Spring? Working
Paper 2011.1. PITPI, University of Washington, Department of Communication, p. 7
Ghannam, J. (2011). p. 21
Cf. ibid, p. 7
Cf. Open Net Initiative (2009): Internet Filtering in Egypt. Retrieved 04/24/2012:
http://opennet.net/sites/opennet.net/files/ONI_Egypt_2009.pdf, p. 4
Cf. Freedom House (2011): Freedom of the Press. Egypt
Committee to Protect Journalists: 10 Worst Countries to be a Blogger. Retrieved 06/27/2012:
Cf. Freedom House (2011): Freedom in the World. Egypt.
Cf. Abdallah, N. (2011), p. 28
Cf. Ghannam, J. (2011), p. 5

over the years, the online expressions of protest against the Mubarak regime continued to
grow simultaneously.
After outlining the development and use of the internet and particularly social media in
recent years, the next section of this study focuses on the empirical research conducted to
specify mechanisms of use and inter-mediary effects of social media in the Egyptian
revolution in 2011.


Type of Edition
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Softcover)
File size
3.9 MB
Publication date
2014 (March)
Arab Spring Social media Protest mobilization Collective identity Egypt

Title: Social Media During the Egyptian Revolution: A Study of Collective Identity and Organizational Function of Facebook & Co
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