The socio-political implications of social media participation and activism among young adults in Saudi Arabia.

Alsahafi, W.A., 2019. The socio-political implications of social media participation and activism among young adults in Saudi Arabia. PhD, Nottingham Trent University.

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In most democratic countries, citizens have access to several avenues to participate in and engage with political and social issues. However, in Saudi Arabia, there are only a few permissible forms of expressing opinions and venting frustrations. Therefore, unlike most democratic societies, where social media is primarily utilised to foster the traditional, offline means of exerting pressure on state agencies, social media is the principal platform for political participation and activism in Saudi Arabia.

This thesis therefore aims to explore the political and social implications of social media participation and activism within an authoritarian environment. Although there is extensive scholarly agreement that social media has widened the scope of information, enhanced horizontal networks of communication, and expanded the space for freedom of expression, the nature of the socio-political context within an authoritarian environment can critically influence the way in which individuals engage with and participate in social and political issues online. Thus, the political potential of these platforms in a public sphere that is characterised as being extremely authoritarian, religious, and patriarchal requires further empirical investigations. This thesis also investigates, through a case study of the anti-male guardianship hashtag activism, how Saudi women have utilised Twitter’s ‘hashtag’ feature to promote their campaigns and fight for their rights.

Based on 29 semi-structured interviews with activists and non-activists (aged between 20 and 35) and extensive fieldwork, this study will explore how Saudi young adults perceive the socio-political implications of social media for political participation and activism in Saudi Arabia.

The literature pertaining to the political implications of social media is highly contradictory, with some studies emphasising its potential to serve as a space of autonomy and participation, while others emphasise its depoliticising nature. Making its own original contribution to this debate, my study shows how social media has played an unprecedented role in paving the way for Saudis to participate in socio-political issues, increase the level of transparency and accountability, expose wrongdoing, express opinions, and generate awareness. More critically, the findings introduce a model that demonstrates how the ‘socially connective function’ of social media can penetrate the dynamic of ‘ubiquitous preference falsification’ (characterising most societies living under authoritarian regimes) by encouraging the public disclosure of preferences.

The findings also show how the anti-male guardianship hashtag activism functions as an ‘alternative space’ for geographically dispersed and affected women in Saudi Arabia to mobilise thousands of national and global opinions, frame male guardianship-related issues, and challenge the patriarchal and victim-blaming discourse dominating the Saudi public sphere.

Finally, I argue that within an authoritarian context, social media can increase socio-political participation, but it does not essentially lead to the democratisation and pluralism of the online public sphere due to two critical reasons: the increasing adoption of sophisticated surveillance technologies by states and online trolls.

Item Type: Thesis
Creators: Alsahafi, W.A.
Date: September 2019
Rights: This work is the intellectual property of the author. You may copy up to 5% of this work for private study or personal, non-commercial research. Any re-use of the information contained within this document should be fully referenced, quoting the author, title, university, degree level, and pagination. Queries or requests for any other use, or if a more substantial copy is required, should be directed in the owner(s) of the Intellectual Property Rights.
Divisions: Schools > School of Arts and Humanities
Record created by: Jeremy Silvester
Date Added: 17 Jul 2020 14:43
Last Modified: 31 May 2021 15:18

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