Online social systems, social actions, and politics: a narrative analysis of the role of social media in revolutionary political change

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Rozan Omar Maghrabi (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
A.F. Salam

Abstract: One of the demonstrators during the 2011 Egyptian revolution tweeted “We use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world,” thus acknowledging and establishing the fundamental role of social media in the political unrest and revolution against the regime in Egypt. Information Systems (IS) have been recognized as an important vehicle for national progress, social movement and political change (Majchrzak et al., 2013; Oh et. al., 2015; Oh et al., 2013). Contemporary social and political changes highlight new forms of social movement that are taking place using Information and Communications Technology or Information Systems, specifically social media. While social and political scientists as well as information systems researchers have studied social movements for a number of years, the majority of these studies has explored the role of ICT on activism and social movements in the Western world. Yet, the political implications of these technologies in the context of authoritarian and repressive political systems remain relatively under-researched and need further development (Breuer et al., 2012). In addition, studies in the IS discipline addressing the role of information systems in general, and social media in particular, in the context of revolutionary political change as has happened in the Case of 2011 Egyptian revolution are limited (Greengard, 2009; Maghrabi & Salam, 2013; Majchrzak et al., 2013; Oh et al., 2015; Oh et al., 2013; Wattal et al., 2010). Majchrzak et al. (2013) states that “the time has come to assess the evidence about ICT’s social consequences and to develop better theories about the precise nature of the role of ICT in complex social problems” (p.1). Using narrative research approach, we explore the relationship among social media, social movement, and rapid revolutionary political change by focusing on the role played by social media, particularly Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, in the context of the 2011 Egyptian revolution that led to the fall of authoritarian Mubarak regime. More specifically, our narrative research aims to understand and generate a theoretical explanation of the process by which social media influences online activism and shapes social movement collective interpretation for revolutionary political change. Narrative analysis is used to examine how social media offers a platform that facilitates social movement process to develop and affect social actions in the context of rapid revolutionary political change. Through the perspective of our study, we highlight the unique characteristics of social media that are driven, not by technology in isolation, but by the bond between technological attributes and characteristics of the social systems. The process and narrative approach offer a sophisticated, multi-dimensional, and holistic analysis that avoid a narrow focus on individual dimensions of the phenomenon. The findings of our study provide a narrative that offers a meaningful explanation of the process in which citizen social movements evolve through social media. Our narrative analysis of citizen social movement process revealed five distinct phases preceding the political change. These phases highlight the unique nature and activities of each stage of the social movement development, and the different roles played by social media throughout social movement process. Further, the emphasis on temporality, which is a key characteristic of narrative methods, revealed different important aspects of social media role in rapid revolutionary political change. Exploring the impact of social media in particular, and ICT in general, on social and rapid political change is an important area for research in information systems due to the emerging role of IS in politics across the globe, and the importance of political environment to business and economies. In this broader sense, this study of social media contributes to IS discipline by expounding on the role of social media in revolutionary social movement and its influence on, and being influenced by, the larger political context. One of the larger contribution of this research is to lay the foundation for IS scholars to further investigate the larger role of Information Systems and Technologies in our social and political systems both for the benefit of business organizations as well as for the larger society.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2017
Activism, Narrative Analysis, Political Change, Process Approach, Social Media, Social Movements
Social movements $x Technological innovations
Political participation $x Technological innovations
Online social networks $x Political aspects
Social media $x Political aspects
Technology and civilization
Internet and activism

Email this document to