Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2014

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 08/31/2021

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Mass Communications

First Advisor

Eko, Lyombe

First Committee Member

Perlmutter, David

Second Committee Member

Boynton, Bob

Third Committee Member

Berry, Venise

Fourth Committee Member

Ekdale, Brian


This dissertation explores the role of social media in political activism in authoritarian societies, using as case studies the use of YouTube as an alternative channel of communication and resistance during the political crises in Pakistan, Tunisia, and Egypt. I studied Pakistan because it is one of the few majority Muslim countries in which social media were part of the media mix during the mass uprisings that led to the overthrow of the regime of military leader, General Pervez Musharraf in 2007. Tunisia and Egypt were chosen because these two countries are seen as the iconic nations of the Arab Spring 2011. The study argues that the term "Arab Spring" itself limits the scope of ongoing online and offline political uprisings in the Muslim World, which is spreading beyond the geographical boundaries of the Middle East.

The investigation uses "social movements" as defined and theorized by Hirschman (1970), Lohmann (1994), Olson (1965), and Tarrow (1994; 1998) as its theoretical foundation, in order to describe and explain how YouTube was part of the information activism of the social movements that sprang up during the revolutions in Pakistan, Tunisia and Egypt. A comparative methodological approach enables me to analyze the "most viewed" YouTube videos of political protests in the three countries.

By examining a purposive sample of 60 most viewed protest-related YouTube videos, the study explores how these videos served as a "voice," (alternative channels of communication) when the authoritarian governments controlled all the media in the three countries. Using quantitative content analysis and thematic analysis approaches, the study investigates YouTube's role and content during Pakistan's political crisis of 2007, and compares it with that platform's role as an alternative avenue of communication, as well as its content in the 2011 political uprising in Tunisia and Egypt, which are the core of the Arab Spring in North Africa.

Eight research questions were asked for this investigation. These questions were derived from Hirschman (1970), Lohmann (1994), Tarrow (1998), and Perlmutter's (1998) works. Issues that were investigated in these questions include: identifying the cultural and ideological frames used in the most viewed videos of each revolution, YouTube videos as "informational cascades," Al-Jazeera's role as "informational cascade," YouTube videos as a "Voice," and the most iconic images of each revolution.

The findings of these research questions suggest that in the absence of traditional media sources, YouTube can serve as an alternative platform of communication and dissent. The study finds that the social movements in the three countries (The Lawyers' Movement of 2007 in Pakistan, the so-called Jasmine Revolution of Tunisia (2010), and the Arab Spring of Egypt 2011) utilized YouTube as an alternate channel of communication to disseminate information on political protests against the dictatorial regimes for purposes of promoting resistance.

The visual content analysis of these videos revealed that the YouTube videos of political protests utilized common religious and national ideologies as a part of cultural and ideological frames to spread the narratives of political protests online.

The findings of this study support that the most viewed videos contributed to serve as informational cascades for the observers (YouTube viewers) of these protest-related videos. The findings also highlight that the pan-Arabic TV channel Al-Jazeera utilized YouTube as an alternative platform to disseminate its protest-related videos, particularly when the channel was banned in the three countries.

The visual content analysis of the most viewed videos of protests suggest that social movements in Pakistan, Tunisia and Egypt used YouTube to amplify their voice against corruption, unemployment, and authoritarianism in the three countries.

The findings of this dissertation identify that three images (one from each country) were treated as the icons of outrage in the 60 most viewed protest-related videos. These icons of outrage include the images of Mohamed Bouazizi's self-immolation (Tunisia), torture-disfigured face of Khaled Said (Egypt), and the arrest of Pakistani Chief Justice, Iftikhar Chaudry.

Based on its findings, the dissertation argues that the ongoing political struggle in Muslim-majority countries is a much bigger phenomenon than the "Arab Spring." This study also makes a strong case that Pakistan experienced online informational activism long before the Arab Spring of 2011. Since political communication in Pakistan is a relatively under-researched field, academic archives do not provide sufficient information on the role and emergence of social media in the country, including how the new modes of digital communication serve as alternative channels of political activism against dictatorship. This dissertation intends to fill this void.

The study also contributes to the existing literature on communication, social movements and political activism, which is predominantly specific to Western settings. Since this study applies Western approaches of social movements to non-Western settings, it helps to explicate the applicability of such approaches to non-Western societies and contexts. Furthermore, it is important to understand the role of social media as alternative channels of communication in closed, authoritarian societies where the traditional media serve only the interests of the ruling elites. In addition, the study helps to explain how the increasingly popular social media, e.g. YouTube, are contributing to civil liberties by challenging the authoritarian regimes of the Muslim World.


Arab Spring, Pakistan, Social Media, Social Movements, Tunisia, YouTube


xv, 259 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 211-224).


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Copyright © 2014 Rauf Arif

Available for download on Tuesday, August 31, 2021