On December 17, 2010 a young street vendor in Tunisia, named Mohammed Bouazizi stood in front of a government building, doused himself in gasoline, and lit himself ablaze.
Bouazizi was a university graduate, who was unemployed due to the poor economic conditions in his country. In an attempt to support his family in any way possible, he began to sell fruits and vegetables in a cart on the side of the road in the city of Sidibouzid. However, when the police officials took away his cart, claiming that he did not have an appropriate permit, he decided to protest in this extreme way.
Bouazizi survived his self immolation for approximately 18 days, and eventually, he succumbed to the burns that covered over 90 percent of his body. On January 5th, 2011, he died and became a national hero to many in Tunisia.
After his passing, people began to protest the injustice in their country and a revolution of sorts arose. Eventually the ruler of the country, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali left office, after over two decades of dictatorship. Many users claim that this was the result of the domino effect which began with the actions of Bouazizi.
Many people felt that social media had a big hand in sparking the revolution and keeping it alive. It is important to note that Bouazizi left a final status update dedicated to his mother on Facebook before his death. Twitter was also consumed with tweets regarding the topic, and below is the last status update that Bouazizi made, and posted on Facebook:
Translation: “I will be traveling my mom, forgive me. Reproach is not helpful. I am lost in my way it is not in my hands, forgive me if disobeyed words of my mom. Blame our times and do not blame me. I am going and not coming back, look I did not cry and tears did not fall from my eyes. Reproach is not helpful in time of treachery in the land of people. I am sick and not in my mind all what happened, I am traveling and I am asking who leads the travel to forget.”
SocialEyez decided to gauge the buzz around this issue.
The following is a report detailing the results of an extensive search on the social media coverage regarding the Tunisian revolution and the man that sparked it: Mohammed Bouazizi. SocialEyez ran a search within the date range of December 17, 2010, and January 17, 2011.
In order to monitor the buzz regarding the topic, Socialeyez used unlimited number of keywords related to Bouazizi and searched all social media platforms for mentions of them.
However, in relation to the Tunisian revolution, we selected a sample of only 3 hashtags, in order to illustrate the buzz on Twitter alone. These were: #tunisia, #revolution and Tunisia, and #jasminrevolt. (note: the Jasmin revolt, is a name given to the Tunisian revolution because the national flower of Tunisia is the Jasmin)
Based on our research, a total of 5,316 comments/posts were found within the date range of December 17, 2010, and January 17, 2011 related to the name Mohammed Bouazizi. Below is the chart of the daily volume:
The highest buzz volume was captured on the day of his death (January 5th), and another peak on the date of the resignation of the President (January 14th). This goes to show that many people attributed the resignation of the President to Bouazizi, and related the two incidents. A significant drop in volume was noted on the day of his self immolation, it was not until his death and the beginning of the riots that people began to truly talk about Bouazizi on social media platforms.
After collecting the results, we categorized the comments as positive, negative or neutral, in relation to the question “Was Mohammed Bouazizi a hero/martyr?”
The majority of results (60%) were neutral, users shared the news of a man setting himself on fire, or links to news pages. However, 37% of the results were positive, and users felt that Bouazizi was indeed a national hero, and a martyr. Some sample comments with this sentiment are listed below:
“RT @AymanM: Rest In Peace Mohamed Bouazizi: the man who may have single handedly brought change to the Arab World. #tunisia #arabfreedom”
“RIP Mohamed Bouazizi, some might disagree but i think he is a martyr #sidibouzid #tunisia”
“@mishari26 This is Tunisia and we -the people- decide who our martyrs are, not your fatwas. M. Bouazizi acted heroically #sidibouzid”
“Mohamed Bouazizi is not only a marytr but a legend in the region. Historical figure that will always be remembered for a long time.”
“RT @monaeltahawy: Mohamed Bouazizi, 26, of #Sidibouzi, who sparked #Tunisia popular uprising, has died. RIP. His legacy lives on among thousands he inspired.”
On the other hand, a minority of users (3%) felt that what Bouazizi did was actually negative:
“ I’m sure if he had that much passion over something he could have accomplished so much more if he was alive years from now, working for a cause. That kind of protest only triggers more anger and violence, and there is no need for that or someone killing themselves or another person. I’ve had enough time to think about this shit having been in the military, and why I left. We can idolize a guy who burns himself to death but I feel that the adoration is misdirected and it’s only a result of a confused and unfocused rage.”
“I think this protest is just like any other. People want to speak up and change things. Governments don’t like change in countries such as this one. I envy people that speak their minds to the government and stand up for what they think is right for not only themselves, but for the rest of their country. As for the fact that people, like Mohamed Bouazizi, have tried killing themselves and succeed with the attempt, I do not think that is very smart. If you want change, you have to go through with your first decision. Especially with something so drastic. Although, there is a chance of being killed by the government, there is also that chance that, if you make the right moves, you can make a change in the country, or even the world.”
The following graph shows the daily volume on Twitter for the hashtags that we used. A total of 223,419 results were found within our date range.
There are definite points in time, over the one month period which we monitored, where the volume of results peaked. The first of these peaks occurs on January 10th, which is the date when riots began on Tunisian streets. The second peak occurs on the 14th of January when news of the resignation of Tunisia’s leader had become public. Below are some tweets found on peak days:
“Why must there always be riots before people can reach something? Which use have politicians actually?”
“Philosopher’s Tree: Tunisia: Demonstrations Reveal Corruption, Media Restrictions”
Below you can see a map overlay of the location in which results were found. Many results were captured from the Middle East region, but results were also captured from Europe, North and South America, and other parts of the world.
When we broke down the results into top countries of Origin, users from the United States generated the highest percentage of results, but this was due to the fact that Twitter and Facebook are both based in the United States, and unless an account states the origin of the user, then it would be attributed to the U.S. France came in second place, possible because of the dominant French influence on Tunisian society, and the fact that French sites are often read and accessed by many people in Tunisia.
Amongst countries in the Arab region, Egypt, Jordan, KSA, the UAE and of course, Tunisia were all amongst the top 25 countries. Authorities in Egypt, KSA and UAE have also voiced concerns about the ripple effect this may cause in their own countries.
Of all the buzz reports we have compiled, this report had the highest volume of results, which goes to show that social media is indeed playing a key part in publicizing the revolution and keeping it alive.
Many people around the Arab world have imitated the actions of Bouazizi, and since his self immolation, men in Egypt, Algeria, and Mauritania have all proceeded to set themselves on fire in hopes of fostering change in their countries. For this reason, monitoring and understanding the trends which have developed over social media platforms has been important, and has contributed immense insight into the situation.
Raghad Tayeh & Yannick Dischinger
Social Media Analysts @ SocialEyez