Get access

Social media in the 2011 Egyptian uprising


  • We are grateful to the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center for access to data from the March 2011 Gallup World Poll. The interpretations offered here are exclusively those of the authors. We thank Robert Andersen, Charles Kurzman, Sidney Tarrow, Barry Wellman, and Marisa Young for helpful comments on a draft. The advice of BJS Editor Katherine Stovel and four anonymous reviewers also helped to improve this paper. We wrote it as a class project for the graduate seminar in social movements (SOC6012H), Department of Sociology, University of Toronto. Please address correspondence to Robert Brym, Department of Sociology, University of Toronto, 725 Spadina Avenue, Toronto M5S 2J4, Canada (


This paper uses Gallup poll data to assess two narratives that have crystallized around the 2011 Egyptian uprising: (1) New electronic communications media constituted an important and independent cause of the protests in so far as they enhanced the capacity of demonstrators to extend protest networks, express outrage, organize events, and warn comrades of real-time threats. (2) Net of other factors, new electronic communications media played a relatively minor role in the uprising because they are low-cost, low-risk means of involvement that attract many sympathetic onlookers who are not prepared to engage in high-risk activism. Examining the independent effects of a host of factors associated with high-risk movement activism, the paper concludes that using some new electronic communications media was associated with being a demonstrator. However, grievances, structural availability, and network connections were more important than was the use of new electronic communications media in distinguishing demonstrators from sympathetic onlookers. Thus, although both narratives have some validity, they must both be qualified.