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Social Media Networks in the Tunisian Spring

The second morning at ECREA 2016 starts with Laura Pérez-Altable, whose focus is on the Arab Spring in Tunisia. She begins by pointing out the double articulation of social media as a material object as well as as symbolic and discursive; this also goes for the social networks that are encoded in social media environments.

The present study focusses on Nawaat, an independent collective blog; Laura examined the site's ego-network during both the latent and visible phases of the Tunisian social movement. This combines both quantitative and qualitative methods of social network analysis and direct interviews with Tunisian activists.

The network can be understood as a network of alters that have formed around a particular node. Laura has analysed this both by actor-actor and by actor-hashtag relationships. In the latent phase, the ego-network of actor-actor relations largely consisted of founders and members of Nawaat, some of whom were also interconnected amongst each other. The actor-hashtag network is more complex, and shows the diverse uses of various hashtags during this phase – related especially to the Tunileaks and Wikileaks revelations that sparked many of the Arab Spring developments.

During the visible phase, the actor-actor network is larger and more dense, as more alters begin to pay attention to Nawaat; the site's account remains central. Some more distance nodes serve as bridges between the Nawaat network and potential other social media clusters. The actor-hashtag network shows only a small handful of hashtags as widely used, with a much broader range of minor hashtags being used in more idiosyncratic ways.

This suggests different dynamics during these different phases, and points to the importance of Tunileaks and other external sources in transforming Tunisian debates. This enabled the emergence of a counter-hegemony to challenge the status quo.