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'Social Media Revolution' Myths in German Magazines' Arab Spring Coverage

The next session at ECREA 2012 begins at a more reasonable time, and is on news representations of foreign affairs. Melanie Magin begins by presenting on the mass media representation of the Arab Spring as a 'social media revolution'. This is an overstatement, of course, driven by the mass media's focus on social media in their coverage.

Such coverage in turn also feeds back to the protesters themselves, becoming a self-fulfilling fiction. The myth is aided by the fact that few people outside the region had direct access to the protests, enabling the perpetuation of the myth. As such myths become established, then, they feed back also into other protests, which similarly begin to highlight social media as a key tool.

This is an issue of framing social media use, of course. Frames are influenced by various factors – the sponsors of frames, the cultural resonance of frames, the tactical actions of frame sponsors, for example. The present study examined the coverage of social media in the context of the uprisings, and contrasted it with social media coverage in other contexts. It focussed on three major German print magazines.

Frames identified were privacy, platforms, business, Zeitgeist, mobilisation, vision, and interpersonal relations. Arab Spring coverage was strongest in January and February 2012, while overall social media coverage was more distributed over the year; Facebook was mentioned widely generally, while Twitter was mentioned more frequently in the context of the Arab Spring.

The key uprising-related frame for social media coverage was their potential as 'revolutionary tools' to mobilise protesters. General frames were also related to mobilisation, but also to more general social change. Elites were evaluated more negatively in the context of the Arab Spring; social media users substantially more positively. This represents a rather one-sided perspective; an investigation of the actual role of social media in the uprisings must still be conducted.