The Arab Spring Retweeted

Country/area: Qatar

Organisation: Al Jazeera

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 28/1/2021

Credit: Mohammed Haddad and Mohammed Hussein

Biography: Mohammed Haddad is Al Jazeera’s interactive editor. Mohammed Hussein is Al Jazeera’s senior digital producer.

Project description:

Ten years ago, the Middle East changed forever. Dubbed the Arab Spring, the region saw the largest anti-​government protests across Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Yemen and Syria.

Using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, citizen journalists were challenging the official government narrative spewed out by the state.

This massive shift to digital media brought with it another thing – an unedited digital trail for history to remember – word by word, tweet by tweet, video by video.

The Arab Spring Retweeted relives these events, not through anecdotes, but exactly as they unfolded, one tweet at a time – all 9,825 of them.

Impact reached:

The Arab Spring Retweeted is the most comprehensive digital collection that documents Al Jazeera’s Twitter feeds to understand how the Arab Spring all began. It has been cited by numerous studies and shared widely across social media.

The story was one of Al Jazeera’s most viewed stories of Al Jazeera’s 10 year anniversary coverage and was shared widely on social media as an important historical artifact of the digital age.

Techniques/technologies used:

R was used to mine nearly half a million tweets and analysed each of them for keywords, hashtags, retweets, likes and media content. We then visualised the origins and key turning points for each of the six countries’ revolutions – many of which were happening simultaneously.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The original data for this project was over 200GB which documented a minute by minute account of how the Arab Spring unfolded across Al Jazeera’s digital platforms. Making sense of this data in order to tell a compelling human story was the biggest challenge.

What makes this approach unique is that it provides an easy and visually compelling way of communicating such a historic event in a mobile and digital native format – the Twitter feed.

What can others learn from this project?

Social media as an important historical artifact of the digital age.

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