Last updated: 1 November, 2011

Social networks “break fear and silence”

Social networking sites such as Twitter have allowed pro-democracy protesters to “break the fear and the silence” by giving them a voice and a means of organisation, a top Yemeni activist said Tuesday.

Atiaf Alwazir, a blogger and researcher, said the Internet had not created the Arab Spring revolutions but likened it to a fast car that had helped those calling for change to make better progress.

“The Internet has served to break the fear and the silence,” she told a global conference on cyberspace in London, attended by officials, technology firms, security experts and activists from more than 60 nations.

“There’s something strange about being behind a computer screen. You feel a sense of security, you feel able to communicate. Online, you’re freer to express your opinion, to challenge things that normally otherwise you would not have.”

She said anti-regime protesters in Yemen relied “heavily” on Facebook groups to organise, arranging to go online at the same time to prepare their movements for the following day.

Twitter, meanwhile, “really helps in spreading the news” both to the outside world and to ordinary Yemenis who would otherwise have to rely on government or opposition media for their information.

“It has really helped in spreading events on violation of human rights. … At a protest (when) live ammunition suddenly happens, someone may be tweeting about this, someone else may be capturing this with a video and live-streaming it,” Alwazir told delegates.

The Internet also offered an invaluable “world of global solidarity,” she said, while insisting that it remained only a tool for change for revolutionary movements in places like Egypt and Tunisia.

“Facebook and Twitter and all other social media are great tools, but people are the agents of change and people had been calling for change for a long time,” Alwazir said.

“Imagine you’re walking to work. You will eventually get to your job but imagine you were given a car, a fast car. … You would get there a lot faster.”

Yemen has witnessed one of the longest and bloodiest uprisings of the Arab Spring, with hundreds of Yemenis dead and thousands more wounded since January.