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The Emergence of Libyan Networked Publics: Social Media Use Before, During and After the Libyan Uprising

Ehdeed, Skina (2019) The Emergence of Libyan Networked Publics: Social Media Use Before, During and After the Libyan Uprising. PhD thesis, University of Sheffield.

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Abstract

Much has been written about the role of social media in the Arab countries following the uprisings of 2011, most of it focused on Tunisia and Egypt. There has been very little research, however, that looks at the role of social media and its democratic potential within the Libyan context. Drawing on different understandings and critiques of the public sphere concept and how internet technology has transformed it, this qualitative study aimed to investigate the nature of the emergent Libyan networked public sphere, and traced how it has evolved over time. More specifically, this study focuses on three critical phases: immediately before, during, and after the uprising, covering primarily the period between 2011-2016, with a brief glance at Libya’s public sphere in the pre-uprising period. This study adopted an interpretative qualitative methodology, relying on multiple research techniques as part of a process of triangulation to provide a broader understanding of the research questions, and assure validity of claims and arguments. These qualitative methods were: (1) semi-structured Skype-based interviews with young Libyans with varying shades of political opinion aged between 25-35 years old in three cities, Tripoli, Benghazi and Sabha; and (2) qualitative content analysis of two selected Facebook pages, the revolutionary-oriented LW Facebook page, and the LI Facebook page, which was anti-revolutionary-oriented. The interview data were analysed using thematic analysis, while content analysis was used to analyse the Facebook data. The study revealed that while social media may make it easier to mobilise populations, this does not mean it is easier to achieve gains or to sustain movements. The study revealed that the social media landscape that opened up suddenly after the uprising, revealing a vibrant political environment marked by different forms of political activities and practices, has devolved into an environment of conflict and chaos. The enthusiasm and hope for change has largely been replaced by frustration, distrust and fear in a way that has disempowered people and led many to stay passive recipients rather than active contributors in democratic debate and practice. The study also shows how Libya’s pre-existing divisions might have exacerbated online polarisation. More specifically, it illustrates how Libya’s complex tribal composition, and its pre-existing regional cleavages, mainly the East-West divide, have been reanimated, and came to characterise the online practices and discussions of publics. This division along tribal and regional lines turned social media networks into spaces of contention and conflict, that led many to eventually abandon political participation. This suggests that although there were some tentative signs of the development of a more democratic networked public sphere in the immediate aftermath of the revolution, the deepening crisis and shrinking space for public debate indicate a complex, shifting and uncertain picture of the role of social media in the development of Libya’s post-uprising public sphere. Because social media landscape in Libya has continued to change and evolve since 2011, this study recommends that to understand the nature of emergent networked publics in post-revolutionary societies, the theoretical framework ought to be longitudinal because countries in transition are often experiencing fast-paced changes in a way that makes it problematic to generalise from a snapshot moment. This study also recommends that recognising and adapting to these changes needs to be at the heart of any social media strategy for Libya for some time to come.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Social Sciences (Sheffield) > Information School (Sheffield)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.774007
Depositing User: Miss Skina Ehdeed
Date Deposited: 13 May 2019 08:34
Last Modified: 25 Sep 2019 20:07
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/23884

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