GRM 2010 GRM 2011

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Social media and social conflict: mediated identities in the aftermath of the Arab Spring in Bahrain
Paper Proposal Text :
This paper assesses the effects of social media in social conflict situations and the role of the Internet in identity formation, negotiation and transformation using the Arab Spring events in Bahrain. One may think of Bahrain as an exemplary case to examine both the positive and negative aspects of social media in the Arab Spring uprisings. Bahrain\'s Internet and mobile connectivity rates are amongst the highest in the Middle East, as are the social media participation rates; the Internet\'s potential for creating mass mobilization, conflict resolution or conflict escalation can thus be closely studied through this example. In addition, Bahrain is still characterized by the relative openness of discussions on its online forums. Furthermore, identity is an especially interesting dimension of the recent events in Bahrain, given on the one hand the sectarian underpinnings of the Bahraini protests and their alleged Iranian support (according to the pro-government movement) and on the other, the pan-Arab identity underlining the Arab Spring, as well as the international mobilization of youth in Occupy movements around the globe, a level to which the Bahraini activists also aspire. Indeed, Bahraini social media initially served to mobilize social movements, just as they did in other countries where protests were staged; however, their impact on society proved to be a double-edge sword as the online activism began to reflect the growing sectarian division of society. Ultimately, the conflict led to a bitter online struggle between the supporters and the opponents of the current political system.
This research strives to uncover multiple layers of identity and to identify social movement actors through their online expression by applying content/discourse analysis to both the text and the visual content of their websites. Social media will be thus used to study the expression of identity of various groups involved in the Bahraini conflict exacerbated by the Arab Spring events. In addition, this paper will attempt to find out whether social media can provide evidence on the reasons for the conflict\'s escalation and the resulting violence, and, furthermore, whether their use might shed light on the possible outcomes of the Bahraini Arab Spring. Social media offer a valuable resource for research. They present the subjective truths of how social movements and counter-movements frame their identity, their struggle and their opponents. The comparison of these views of the world is crucial to understand the potential for both consensus building and conflict escalation. Studying social media proves to be especially valuable in contexts where the traditional media represent only the official discourse, and the social media act, in Baudrillard\'s words, as the \"real revolutionary media\".
The analysis will focus on uncovering the psychological phenomena that accompany in-group formation and out-group hostility. Although researchers (Ali & Fahmy, 2013) have already focused on the role played by particular web pages in the Arab Spring uprisings, the field remains very limited. Given the potential of social media, this study offers the first complete overview of Arab Spring-related web pages, both anti- and pro-government, in the Kingdom of Bahrain and, building on past literature on identity, provides new evidence on the role of identity in conflict escalation. It helps explain the very limited \"transnational wave\" of opinion supporting the Bahraini uprising on the part of Western activists. Despite initial enthusiasm for the Internet\'s potential in permitting direct democracy and civil society building, the research concludes with the negative effects of new technologies on in-group and out-group relations in highly polarized societies. The dominant power relations and high status condition are among the factors explaining the identity protection mechanism in place. Consequently, this research explores the potential social media hold for identity conflict prediction and examines the fault lines along which social polarization occurs.
This paper presents a dual appraisal of the events of the Bahraini Arab Spring, on the one hand touching upon the broader question of the nature of the Internet and the impact of social media on social activism, and on the other shedding light on the dynamics of sectarian tensions. The intensity of the latter became obvious in the region in recent years, while during the Arab Spring in Bahrain these tensions were further magnified. As the social divisions in Bahrain continue to tear the social fabric apart, this research offers a fresh insight into the social complexities and their impact on online activism and provides an overview of future scenarios with applications far beyond the borders of Bahrain.