In the wake of recent political turmoil in Belarus and Tunisia, Global Journalist Radio, the web-based discussion branch of the magazine of the same name, hosted a half-hour broadcast focusing on the expanded role of social media in grassroots political dissent. Alexander Lukashuk
, Director of RFE's Belarus Service, participated in the January 20 broadcast along with guests Elaine Ganley of the Associated Press, Scott Shane of "The New York Times," and Tunisian political activist Fares Marbouk. [listen and watch the full program
Referencing the increasingly popular appellation for social media’s political metamorphosis - “Revolution 2.0” - host Byron Scott focused first on Tunisia’s apparently successful toppling of the Ben Ali regime. Recounting his firsthand experiences, Marbouk explained in detail the cyber-guerilla campaign that played such a dramatic role in this month’s overthrow.
Europe hasn’t seen this number of people arrested, put into prison and prosecuted since the martial law in Poland in the early 80s
“We were creating maybe 10 or 20 new websites a day,” Marbouk explained. “Without knowing each other, we used Twitter to communicate about what’s happening in Tunisia, and to spread this information.”
If Tunisia is a picture of social media’s efficacy, however, Belarus is an example of the risks inherent in such a public strategy. Lukashuk described the situation in Belarus as bleak, characterizing it in stark opposition to Tunisia’s fast-moving revolution.
“In Belarus, it is a fast-moving counter-revolution,” Lukashuk explained. “What’s happening on the ground is [an] unprecedented level of repression. Basically, Europe hasn’t seen this number of people arrested, put into prison and prosecuted since the martial law in Poland in the early 80s.”
Lukashuk went on, expanding on this dark side of social media. He explained that, while some of the benefits of social networking are very positive -- citizen journalism and political organizing -- at the same time government secret services like the KGB have begun using information gathered via websites like Twitter and Facebook for the purposes of counter-intelligence and raids.
Following the discussion, Lukashuk participated in a one-on-one interview, focusing on RFE’s efforts in Afghanistan, in addition to Belarus.
Global Journalist is aired weekly at globaljournalist.org/radio