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‘Liking’ Laughter: Our Common Ground?

February 24, 2012

“Why do things go viral? Because everyone wants to share a laugh.” Sherif Mansour, Freedom House Senior Program Officer

On February 22, 2012, the DC Chapter of the Internet Society (ISOC-DC) held a discussion on “Social Media and Freedom, Promoting Democracy in the Middle East.” The participants included Davin Hutchins, Managing Editor of Middle East Voices at Voice of America, Sirwan Kajjo, Syrian human rights activist/journalist, as well as the above-cited Sherif Mansour. All three speakers confronted the same question: how instrumental was social media in the Arab Spring uprisings? The general consensus was best summed up by Kajjo when he stated that, in Syria, it is not helpful to call what is taking place a facebook revolution. Social media was, he said, “just a facilitator.”

While Hutchins felt that social media did not cause what is taking place in the Middle East, he felt it signaled a developing catalyst for change. All three panelists found social media to be a helpful resource in channeling and organizing public discussion into new spaces and Mansour expressed his opinion that “new media” facilitates the coordinated use of physical spaces, not just digital ones.

Mansour also drew the audience’s attention to another fascinating insight. If the speed and volume of communication taking place during the Arab Spring has increased due to social media outlets, he thinks that the key to reaching critical mass is humor. When we use facebook or twitter, we are more likely to share with our friends the items that made us laugh. Mansour pointed out that the most humorous items being passed around the internet concerning the situation in Egypt were the ones most likely to “go viral.”

This suggests that laughter may be the way to hearts around the world. Regardless of where we come from, we love to share a laugh, and we are sharing those laughs not only face-to-face but facebook-to-facebook.

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