Ten Years later, Social Media Still Matters in Tunisia

Tunisian protesters.

Was Social Media responsible for the Arab Spring? Did a single YouTube Video spark the Jasmine Revolution? And what is the state of social media in Tunisia today? LET’S TALK SECURITY!

Article Highlights:

  • Social Media’s IMPACT on the Arab Spring. 
  • Social Media’s Role in the Jasmine Revolution (Tunisia).
  • State of Social Media in Tunisia (2020).

Social Media’s Impact on the Arab Spring

As we approach the 10th year anniversary of the Arab Spring, we’re going to take a look at this article entitled Arab Spring: The First Smartphone Revolution.

The Arab Spring which took place all the way back in late 2010 (feels like a lifetime ago!) was called by many as The First Smartphone Revolution mainly because of the significant role that Social Media had in the events throughout the region. Smartphones gave youthful Arab Spring protesters a technological edge that helped topple aging dictatorships a decade ago and made their revolutionary images go viral.

@DavidSecurity with Tunisian Security Forces

I remember it well because I was there working as the Security Coordinator for the American Cooperative School of Tunis. And I can personally attest that social media, specifically Facebook played a major role in the events that lead to the Tunisian uprising that was later labeled the Jasmine Revolution.

Was Social Media responsible for the Arab Spring?

Many of the recent news articles offering analysis on the Arab Spring are now downplaying the role of social networks choosing to see them more like the spark that toppled the first domino.

I tend to disagree with this assessment because I believe that without social networks the uprisings would not have succeeded on such a massive scale.


Social Media Important Role in the Jasmine Revolution (Tunisia)

There can be no denying that without social media the Jasmine Revolution would not have happened, at least not as quickly as it did. In fact, without one specific YouTube Video, it may have never happened.

Here’s how it went down:

DEC. 18

People witnessing the fiery act of defiance and the street demonstrations that followed capture the scenes and post them on YouTube. In the Tunisia of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, public protest was strictly banned, yet now there is proof: videos of the protest in Sidi Bouzid that show hundreds of people on the streets, chanting Mr. Bouazizi’s name in open defiance of President Ben Ali. The videos also show how violent the security force’s response was.

DEC. 19

Slim Amamou, an influential Tunisian blogger, sees the video and posts it on Facebook. A middle-class university graduate living in Tunis, Mr. Amamou has little in common with a poor, rural fruit-seller other than hatred for the corrupt Ben Ali regime. After Mr. Amamou posts the video, it goes viral in the Arab World. Al-Jazeera broadcasts it, fuelling copycat demonstrations around the country.

DEC. 27

Protests reach the capital city of Tunis, with about 1,000 demonstrators taking to the streets. Once again, Tunisian activists rely on social media to spread their message. They publicize the protest by hacking into Tunisia’s main labour union website, sending a message to its members to join them in the city’s central Mohammad Ali square. The protesters use Twitter to route demonstrations, avoiding security forces in the streets. Mr. Amamou uses his cell phone to live-stream video of the massive turnout. Others capture and post video of protesters being shot dead on the streets.

JAN. 4, 2011

Mr. Bouazizi succumbs to his injuries, dying in a Tunisian hospital. By now, protests inspired by those in Sidi Bouzid have spread across the country.

JAN. 14

Ben Ali flees Tunisia for Saudi Arabia via Malta, ending his 24-year-long rule. Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi takes over as interim president.

Social Media Still Matters in Tunisia

Today social media continues to play an important role throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA region). In Tunisia, Facebook remains the leader with over 7 million users on the platform. That accounts for 62% of its entire population!

The majority of them were men – 55.7%.

People aged 25 to 34 were the largest user group (2 700 000).

Facebook users in Tunisia

Internet users in Tunisia

  • There were 7.55 million internet users in Tunisia in January 2020.
  • The number of internet users in Tunisia increased by 48 thousand (+0.6%) between 2019 and 2020.
  • Internet penetration in Tunisia stood at 64% in January 2020.
Social media users in Tunisia:
  • There were 7.30 million social media users in Tunisia in January 2020.
  • The number of social media users in Tunisia increased by 473 thousand (+6.9%) between April 2019 and January 2020.
  • Social media penetration in Tunisia stood at 62% in January 2020.
Mobile connections in Tunisia
  • There were 17.77 million mobile connections in Tunisia in January 2020.
  • The number of mobile connections in Tunisia increased by 219 thousand (+1.2%) between January 2019 and January 2020.
  • The number of mobile connections in Tunisia in January 2020 was equivalent to 151% of the total population.

Was social media responsible for the Arab Spring? No, years of suppression, economic disparity, and corruption were the main ingredients. Instead, Social networks provided the channels for the masses to organize and eventually overthrow the regimes that denied them basic freedoms for so many years.

Ten years later Tunisia stands as the only Arab Spring “success story”. Even so, it’s tolerance for social media will continue to be tested as it deals with tough economic as well as security challenges in the coming years.


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