Tag: social media

Change at the Palm of our Hands

What’s more fearful than a man with no political allegiances and access to millions of your citizens? To corrupt governments other than nuclear arms, nothing. Khalid Albaih encapsulates the way of the future for many activist around the world. Where once newspapers and television were the mediums to sensor and control through money, social media is a platform that is difficult to manage without overt censorship and as such is the meeting place for views that governments constantly try to stifle. Particularly in the Arab Spring, platforms like Facebook and Twitter were firestorms for the likes of the Egyptian government because events and posts would pop up without warning and be views by millions before the government could have it removed. Unlike a piece of paper of television broadcasting, the power of the internet is that without a direct blocking of global signals or global websites it’s almost next to impossible to stop people from posting what they like. Khalid knew this and other activist knew this and they all used their knowledge to their advantage.

In Khalid’s experiences he understood that the success of using social media derived from the fact that this platform was the only true and honest source of information left in the public sphere. There was a sense of immediacy and pressure that arose with this use as if it was the only way. In that he articulated the difference in the United States is that we still have faith in other platforms. That is half of us wants to believe in the information we receive from the government, cnn, the new york times, and our representatives. Khalid asserted that this is a privilege, and for him, everyone, and their mother knew that no public source of information was credible in Sudan or in North Africa because they were all controlled by the government and money. However, in this problem of legitimacy also was this problem of saturation and quality. With the use of social media in places where their is no legitimacy elsewhere, places like Facebook have become awash with tid bits of information that are supposed to educate, excite, and produce action, but how are revolutionaries supposed to acquire and hold that attention. While social media is the last free outlet to produce information, how do you assert yourself in a sea of frankly bullshit. With over 500 million people joining Facebook in the last four years, Khalid and other activist of the Arab Spring are trying to continue their fire but amidst a large and less active crowd.

Overall, Khalid conveyed how the difference in social justice movements here versus movements back in the Sudan, North African, and the Middle East is that theirs are done in a last ditch effort. That is they are done as if there is nothing left because doing that action can be life or death. For Khalid, social media wasn’t just an evolution in spreading news to inform people, but it was a revolution in enacting change.


A Social (Media) Revolution

The Arab Spring was a violent, frightening, yet uplifting period of revolution in The Arab world that lasted for more than a year. Filled with numerous civil wars and protests, civilians participated in extreme demonstrations of their frustration, such as Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in attempts to show the governmental intrusion and affliction he faced. This action carried across multiple Arab nations over a short period of time, with multiple Arab civilians following suit with similar actions. However, this period of revolution is so notably remarkably for another reason – the amazing and innovative way in which social media was used as a news network, connectivity platform, and artistic platform for expression to effect change across Arab states and globally. Artist Khalid Albaih does exactly this, using his political engagement and creative ability to produce works of art that create global waves.

        “Revolutions take time, especially with a population that’s already broken,” said Albaih, referring to the various Arab nations in 2010 who prompted revolution. Dependent on the youth, revolutions are born from educated intellectuals fighting within the system and rebelling against an existing power structure. In extremely politically established states such as Tunisia, revolutions are such a rarity due to the fear and danger of governmental response. “If you start a political group under a dictator, you’re either with them or completely crazy.” In this case, many Arabs were “completely crazy,” revolting against long-established power. The work by Albaih is so innovative because of the non-violent, individualistic yet far-reaching power of his pieces. The messages transmitted through his work were not only felt in the first-degree by Arab protesters, but also by global entities like the US and Europe, free from the chokehold of dictatorship. “Social media is the newest dangerous weapon,” says Albaih, as with such a majority of global youth being so present on social media, the weapon of revolution is not limited to those in the country in which change occurs.

One piece of Albaih’s talk that stuck out to me, in particular, was his discussion as an artist with work “going viral.” As a photographer myself, having covered journalistic topics whether it be news or music, I have seen a few pieces of my work “go viral” and then quickly die down days or weeks later. Albaih shared how this can be dangerous to artists specifically, as it quickly gives the artist a lot of power and over a short period of time, however equally quickly dissipates. Albaih’s goal as an artist to make long-lasting work, with global reach and impact is one that resonates with me personally, as social media does truly offer a platform with unlimited scope and possibility.  

Social Network and Social Movement

When Mark Zuckerberg first created Facebook, his vision was to create a tool and plant form for interpersonal communication online, which could be beneficial for entertainment purposes. However, he might not even think about how influential this tool can be used for many social movements. As more people are starting to use social media, which allows everyone to instantly share their ideas and opinions on certain events, it has become a much more powerful tool in social changes and movement.

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Social Media

Facebook and other social media have had a vast impact on how people relate to each other, and it has connected the world. No longer do we have to rely on one viewpoint or the narrative of just a few large news corporations. The content we receive is now our choice more than ever. To compensate, as Khalid said, it seems that the western media prefers to create heroes that their views can attach to, rather than serve up raw details and occurrences that would be more informational.

Where often we may find social media to just be a little bit of fun, and a distraction while we try to study in college, others don’t even have the opportunity to go to college, and it may be their only chance at freedom. Over the internet, information can spread faster than anything. Forget physical pamphlets, now digital ideas are in everyone’s pockets, updated every second.

Growing up in the US, it is incredibly hard, probably impossible, to relate to those living through a war, in constant fear of their life, with no rights and no security for themselves or their family. It is easy to just scroll past anything. In a world of things going viral, content needs to be extreme or unique. In more privileged parts of the world, some people are more likely to linger on the latest post from Kim Kardashian rather than explore the horrific events in Syria or other parts of the world. Part of this is a language barrier and some of it could still be an ignorance – but obviously where we live in the west is just one part of the world, and the large impact of social media in generating the Arab spring was focused where the revolution was happening. With the work of cartoonists, using the universal language of images, ideas can spread far, and be used effectively as art anywhere, like Khalid Albaih’s work which can be stenciled by anyone.

Social media has unfortunately also provided a platform for hate. Ideological extremists, racists, and even politicians, who feel protected by the barrier to interpersonal speech, and sometimes by anonymity will post. While I think more mechanisms must be in place to prevent hateful content, I think the opportunities supplied by the internet certainly outweigh the costs. Furthermore, social media isn’t necessarily creating any divides, but bringing ones to the surface that we might not have noticed before.

Unfortunately, following the Arab spring, oppressive governments, now more technologically aware, are able to block specific content, and even shut off their entire countries’ completely. With that said, can the internet still serve as a platform for full-scale revolution?

Emotional Revolutionary Virality

When asked whether the Arab Spring revolutions were a success or not, Khalid Albaih replied that “revolutions take time.” A few months, or even a few years, is not long enough to gauge the success of a movement. Albaih also discussed his experience with going viral, something that is much more fleeting. Virality is an important part of a modern revolution for spreading images and ideas in the era of social media. Viral images help fuel revolutions, but they are soon forgotten. How fleeting is virality if the themes and ideas expressed in viral social media posts live on in the revolutionary process? The idea of a continuing revolution encompasses the ongoing themes that are explained in temporary, instantly forgotten people and images. Virality and revolution go hand in hand because each large-scale event is made up of smaller scale happenings. Continue reading

The Power and Scope of Social Media Is Not Always a Uniting, Positive Force

During Khalid Albaih’s talk/interview regarding the power of social media, he regularly discussed how social media is turning into the new form of how people get news and spread work like his (political cartoons). He also discussed how the overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt in 2011 was organized and implemented through Facebook and how dictatorial, corrupt governments are struggling to figure out how to censor it. Countries like Sudan lets paper publications publish articles speaking out against them, but immediately confiscates the papers and shuts down the publication for a few days causing them to lose money. Social media is becoming this new realm that is not easily censored  or able to be shut down quickly and revolutionaries are taking advantage of it.

After he brought up that he believed Facebook was this positive media where people could express opinions and organize revolutionary ideas, I could not help but think of a story I heard last year about a man named Alagie Jammeh from The Gambia. Alagie was funded by his uncle, the president of The Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, to study at the University of California at Santa Barbara on a full scholarship. Alagie was greatly appreciative of this opportunity and was determined to take advantage of this opportunity. One day, he was invited by friends to go to a gay pride parade in San Francisco. Alagie could not make it, but in solidarity with his friends he wrote a simple post on Facebook, merely stating “No one should be denied their fundamental human rights because of their sexuality.” As a result of this post, his deeply homophobic uncle and president of The Gambia completely cut off his funding and ordered him to return to The Gambia. It is punishable by death or life in prison to be gay or support gay people in The Gambia where President Jammeh has gone on record saying “Any gay person that comes to The Gambia, we will slit your throat, we will kill you. You will go to jail for the rest of your life. We will not allow gay men or gay women in our society”. Alagie was kicked out of his off-campus housing and had no money for food, he continued to go to class knowing he would not be able to pay at the end of the semester. He lived out of his car and showered in the school’s rec center. He even contemplated suicide at one point, but knew he had to keep going. He finally reached out to his school for help and was paired with lawyers who were determined to get him his education back by granting him political asylum. He ultimately was granted asylum by the United States and graduated from UCSB in the spring (although I’m not sure where his alternative funding came from) .

Alagie’s story ultimately had a happy ending, but it also shows that some of these corrupt governments are in fact cracking down in ways that may not first appear on the surface. Alagie was in no way wrong in posting that status, but Facebook became this entity that led him to his eventual homelessness.

Below is the youtube video where I first heard of this situation and the article talking about his asylum grant:

Gambian UCSB Student Granted Political Asylum in the United States

Those Darn Millennials and Their Revolutions

Khalid is adamant that we are “at the mercy” of scrolling. That is, anyone from artists and creatives to advertisers and corporations must make their content worth stopping for. It must be attention-grabbing, immediately recognizable, and worthy of a share. I was inspired by Khalid’s talk, because while this kind of content is usually chastised in think-pieces as  Just Another Thing Those Horrible Millennials Do, it is clear that this content is not only impactful, but revolutionary.

Too often, social media and the people who use it are painted as lazy, unmotivated, young people with short attention spans and poor social skills. But what is not always fully realized is that social media can facilitate revolutionary causes. There is often an argument that people on social media are participating in “slacktivism” or “clicktivism.” This is a valid grievance, as many people at least initially involve themselves in causes through social media, leaving their work on the screen.  But this is not necessarily a bad thing. First, most “slacktivism” is just the initial entry-point into other forms of activism. We cannot expect all people to care about revolutionary causes if they have never accessed information about these causes before. Social media serves to inform people about these issues first, and to allow people to grow, learn, and gain momentum at an incredibly fast pace. While some work may stay on the screen, others could use this knowledge and engage in other forms of dissent and disruption, such as protest. That being said, it is also not necessarily negative for some activism to remain confined to a screen. Protesting takes physical and mental health that not everyone has, while screen activism can be done for people who are not able-bodied. Protesting also requires a certain socio-economic status; if someone is worried about losing their job and not having enough for even the most basic resources, taking to Twitter might be far safer than taking to the streets.

Yet we are still quick to judge millennials and others who use it as a form of activism. I am wondering, then, if part of this resistance stems from the belief that young people do not have the capabilities, time, or will to turn “slacktivism” into a revolution. Regardless of the histories of young people starting and succeeding in revolutionary work, we still view the efforts of young people as frivolous or “phases.” This is fascinating, because even very recent history proves otherwise, whether by pointing to the role of social media in Obama’s 2008 election, the use of live Facebook video during the most recent police shootings in the United States, and, of course, the importance of Twitter during the Arab Spring. To understand social movements and the political context within which they are growing, we have to also understand the role of social media. Hopefully, the work of Khalid and his contemporaries can show that activism sparked by social media often succeeds, not in spite of its online origins, but because of its origins.



Once in the 1800s, the Indians tried to revolt against the suppressive British Raj. During the mobilisation process, messages were sent across the nation written on bread, carefully wrapped in plates by some enthusiastic volunteers. Had the virtual community come alive some 200 years back, I wonder how that would have gone….

Time and time again history has observed the power of unity, often manifesting itself into a revolution. The characters may have been different, however the script has been similar. Take any case, the French Revolution, The American Revolution. Anyone. Individuals of society suffer, they come together, they bring about a revolution. However, the central part of the ‘script’ has gone constant evolution. Today, even if a Turkish and a Srilankan find themselves under the umbrella of a common opinion, they can “come together”.

While understanding and studying the concept of revolutions, it is important to remember that mobilisation of opinions is what truly counts. For opinions are to live on forever, not us. Now, the virtual community is up and running, encapsulating almost every aspect of our lives. Most of all, social media, focussing solely on connecting people, bringing opinions together. And we have already been subjected to its power, its potential. As discussed by Khalid Albeih, the Arab Spring of 2011 spectacularly brought something the world had never really seen before. With Social Media and its wide global usage, freedom, liberty, expression are no longer mere words inscribed in national constitutions; rather their existence is palpable.

However, one still feels that the social media is not yet in its final evolutionary stage. While there is no doubting its popularity, some areas are still untouched. Needless to say, there will be many more “virtual revolutions” finding their roots in social media. There will be many more Khalid Albeihs whose cartoons and subtle political wisodm will impact millions. And we ALL will have a role to play, whether sharing a Facebook post, liking an Instagram or simply browsing through a twitter feed.


How To Start a Revolution

What’s the best form of social media to use to start a revolution? According to Khalid Albaih it’s all of them. Social media is constantly evolving and becoming more widespread throughout the world. Recently, it was a way for those involved in the Arab Spring to communicate and organize. Social media is a tool that is accessible to many people all over the world and allows everyone to share their opinion, to have a voice. It is an alternative to mainstream media sources that only report one person’s opinion. The ability to voice an alternative opinion and share it with the whole world is, unfortunately, a revolutionary concept for many people.

Khalid Albaih defined a revolution as a series of events that make up a story. Additionally, this story is made up of multiple peoples’ stories. Social media sites provide a platform to share these stories in a multitude of ways. You can learn the story of someone’s life just by going on his or her Facebook page. Snapchat allows users to share what is going in their lives right as it happens. On Instagram, users share a picture that best describes their thoughts or life events. Twitter makes users get their message across in one hundred and forty characters or less. There are so many ways to share a story, but stories are also circulating quicker now. This means they are also forgotten much more rapidly.

We live in a world of constant stimulus, which makes it harder for things to hold our attention. One issue with social media is that it is difficult for one to stay relevant. It allows us access to so many stories and opinions, that we do not ever focus on one. Khalid Albaih has found a way to stay a significant figure throughout all of this. It is because he is constantly on social media: reading, posting, sharing, etc. He lives his life in this online world by commenting on what is happening in the real world in places her cannot access. If someone reproduces his work in a place of conflict, it provides Albaih a way to “be there” without physically being there. This concept allows everyone in the world to become involved with revolutions, not just those who are actually there.

The standard idea about art is that it is something aesthetically pleasing to look at with some meaning, but not always. Art is not typically thought of as a tool for a revolution. However, modern art has become a form of protest and social commentary. Pieces of art in galleries are observations of our world and what has become of it. Nothing is ever just a pretty picture; there is deep meaning behind every brushstroke of green paint and piece of paper cut in a circle. Albaih is a political cartoonist, so his work is expected to have meaning. He has become so influential that people in power are afraid of what he will draw about them. He has truly used the tool of art as a way to start a revolution. The fact that this art can be shared online makes it even more effective. We can literally start revolutions from our living rooms.

Social Media and the Art of Expression: The Next Best Method to Revolt?

Khalid Albaih’s conversation about his ongoing work with political cartoons shined light into how people in the Middle East are reacting to the ongoing climate and how effective, yet simple, drawing cartoons is for freely expressing opinions and thoughts. Although the concept of drawing images to express opinions precedes long before the twenty-first century, the combination of these drawings with technology transform its prior utilization. Albaih’s ongoing work may be foreshadowing the most efficient and effective way to begin a revolution: Art and social media. Art’s universalness already makes ideas more accessible, but launching this on the Internet, namely social media, completely enhances attempts to revolutionize.

As Albaih highlighted, freedom of speech is unheard of in many parts of the world. However, art complicates the government’s ability to directly point to violations against their law. As illustrated in Albaih’s cartoons, hidden messages can be conveyed through intricate art, and his work’s meaning is up to the interpreter his- or herself. This makes art an easy segway to get ideas and feelings across without directly violating the country’s law. Moreover, it allows the audience, often average individuals, see what they want to see and is also accessible; no formal education is required, only being aware of the surroundings is. This has been a custom for centuries, and Albaih carries on this wonderful tradition.

Moreover, combing art’s accessibility with technology revamps the entire process. Albaih can easily upload his cartoon to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and can capture the attention of thousands of people from all over the world. This viral component not only educates individuals from different countries, but also enhances accessibility for residents of relevant countries; these cartoons are not restricted to the cities where revolutions often take place, but also to rural locations and small towns where they can now feel part of the revolution too. Furthermore, as Albaih mentioned, even countries who are undergoing similar revolutions can now share these ideas, and these movements can combine and empower all involved. This act is completely unique of the twenty-first century, and given the increasing connectedness of the world, will likely continue to escalate and transform the way revolutions begin and spread.

Albaih’s efforts, albeit may seem simple, have the capability to change ideas and bring people together to revolutionize. Platforming art onto social media, and using this to generate opinions and make change is a basic yet completely effective process. Albaih’s work is likely the beginning of a core component to revolutions in the twenty-first century.