From virtual space to public space: The role of online political activism in protest participation during the Arab Spring

This study examines the relationship between online social media use and protest participation during the Arab Spring, pro-democracy movements that swept across vast parts of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). What role did online communication media play in individual decisions to participate in these high-risk political activities? We address this question by drawing on microdata from the Arab Barometer Wave III (2012–2014), a large cross-national survey of citizens nested in administrative divisions across a dozen Muslim-majority countries. Using hierarchical linear modeling, we investigate the multilevel associations between online activities and the likelihood of getting involved in anti-government protests. Adjusting for individual- and regional-level confounders, as well as country fixed effects, we find that online political activism specifically, rather than Internet and social media use in general, is associated with higher odds of protest involvement during the Arab uprisings. In addition, we find that the positive linkage between individual online activism and protest is weaker in communities with a higher proportion of politically cyberactive residents.

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