LCC Twitter and Facebook didn’t start the revolutions in the Middle East, but they did accelerate them, according to Yemeni activist Atiaf Alwazir.
Speaking at the London Conference on Cyberspace, Alwazir told delegates that people were the real agents of change in the region, but the internet has helped to speed up their movements.
“Twitter really helps in spreading the news,” she said, adding that Facebook worked well as a place to organise meetings between activists.
Alwazir highlighted how the web helped to educate Yemenis, allowed protestors to document human rights violations and gathered global support for their protests.
As an example, she said she had received an online threat from someone on YouTube when she uploaded video footage of a protest.
“I snapped a screenshot of the threat and put it on Twitter and two hours later on YouTube, people I didn’t know had messaged this person telling him or her you can’t threaten people and eventually the person’s account was so full they deleted it,” she laughed.
However, she pointed out that the internet also has huge challenges in the Middle East.
In Yemen, there is a high incidence of illiteracy and low penetration of internet access.
“We face many challenges, mainly this urban/rural divide and the digital divide,” she said. “In countries where there’s high illiteracy rates and low internet access how can we engage the people?”
She said for the most part, Yemenis use radio and SMS to mobilise, not social networks.
She also pointed out that online activities like live-streaming protests or human rights violations were great for documenting and spreading information, but could also backfire on the activist.
“There are security issues. Live-streaming is a great tool to document events but it’s also a great tool to find where the live-streamer is,” she said. ®