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  • R-Shief Blog
    R-Shief’s new blog on various issues concerning transnational Arab culture, media, technology, critical code, or other interdisciplinary research questions.
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    Laila's Avatar
    Twitter, Social Change, and the Role of VJ Um Amel
    In addition to connecting an on-line community, R-Shief archives and aggregates online videos, Twitter, Facebook, satellite TV, online journals, and data visualizations. During the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, media makers became “co-designers” of the transformative, speedy, historic event(s) in the region posts on Twitter, to the roles of Facebook, YouTube, Al Jazeera, Democracy Now, to White House and Egyptian State Television broadcasting.

    The Arab Spring was brought on not only by large numbers of Egyptians were flooding the streets of Egyptian cities throughout the country, but by the impact of an additional filter of pedabytes of data mediated through various networks. This layer of media created a paradigm shift whose. The speed and impact of information and ideas would not have been achieved through human movement or transformation alone.

    Twitter Analytics by #Hashtag from VJ Um Amel on Vimeo.

    Since August 2010, R-Shief has been data mining (pulling from Twitter and storing onto its own server every 15 minutes) tweets by selected hashtags. (A hashtag is Twitter nomenclature for 'subject heading'). After storing the tweets by hashtag, the data is sorted by language field because language is able to offer culturally specific indicators of the Middle East beyond its current geopolitical place in the world. R-Shief started by adding #Tunisia, then #Jan25 to the existing Twitter Analytics on January 25, 2011. Despite what some scholars and journalists might have said before, Twitter (and other social networking sites) had undoubtedly been causal in recent events in the Middle East. Effectively, R-Shief continues to make accessible all tweets following hashtags: #Wikileaks, #Tunisia, #Jan25, #KhaledSaid, #Abdulemam, #Gaza, and #Flotilla going as far back as September 2010. This simple, craigslist-like interface is meant to encourage users to filter searches through these hashtags by language and/or range of dates, while providing interesting word clouds and parsing out top contributors and hyperlinks within tweets.

    R-Shief’s role as a purely academic aggregator was put to use as an artistic incubator when Laila Shereen Sakr–-using her moniker, VJ Um Amel--crafted a VJ remix in support of her fellow Egyptians incorporating media data from the R-Shief site. Her video "#Jan25, Oum Kalthoum, Sadat, Latuff, #Video Remix" (“Jan 25 Remix”) was published on both Vimeo and YouTube on Monday, Jan 31, 2011, one week into the protest in Egypt.

    #JAN25 remix by @vj_um_amel 4 #Egypt from VJ Um Amel on Vimeo.

    Through VJ Um Amel’s research developing R-Shief Twitter Analytics, over 800,000 tweets on the hashtag #Jan25 alone have been accumulated since Jan 25, 2011, including several days at the height of the conflict in Egypt, when 21 million inhabitants in Egypt were cut from their Internet lines and almost half the population (82-85 million) were deprived of their mobile phone services. Still the world tweeted. How did that happen? How were millions of tweets generated over protests in Egypt while the entire nation was offline? She wrote about her experience managing this Twitter aggregation in a recently published article in critical code journal, ThoughtMesh: "social media operates based on principles of uncertainty, where there are no groups, only formations of groups, and where non-linear time and space still create narratives and meaning vis-à-vis the database, and where objects (such as Twitter) have agency in a social network." (ThoughtMesh.net, February 5, 2011).

    Semantic Content Analysis of 800,000 #Jan25 Tweets from VJ Um Amel on Vimeo.

    The purpose of these data visualizations is to capture that special eruption that suggests Twitter (and other social media sites) own special possibilities that are potentially subversive and feared by government to the extent they shut down the Internet to an entire nation during mass protest. This next information visualization below, also published Feb 12, 2011, was designed to have a more poetic (and less narrative) meaning to express, poet in this context refers to . This is a running hashtag of all the tweets on #Egypt that were posted to Twitter the day Hosni Mubarak resigned as president of Egypt. Whereas the previous semantic content info vid is more like content analysis or data visualization, the hashmap presented here offers a sentiment analysis and is intended to be evocative.

    The ecology in the field of database narrative making and visualizing is undoubtedly a rich, undiscovered territory to explore. In parallel, her itch to create innovative VJ mixes continues. They are a version of blog posts, a type of serialized commentary. Common among the creative fields--the arts, science, technology and design--is a commitment to the production of new knowledge based on original research.

    What the World Tweeted on #Egypt the day Mubarak Resigned from VJ Um Amel on Vimeo.

    In conclusion, there was a fundamental societal shift in Egypt during the Arab Spring protests, when media became actively dependent on the social fabric in Egypt, rather than institutional sources of information and analysis. VJ Um Amel asserts that there is a need to consider various methodological approaches to social media analysis for both the expert and the student. Social media in the Arab world is unique--both in terms of how the society is using it, and in terms of media's history in the Arab world. Where U.S. media, in principle, acts to ensure the power of the government remains under checks and balances, in the Arab world it functions generally as an apparatus of the state rather than a form of societal self-expression. Social media and its surprising political usages have created interplay between the application of structure and resistance that have been transformative in Arab countries during the Arab Spring Protests. VJ Um Amel researching extended notions of how innovative methods might be applied in a Media studies or Middle East studies context.

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