Mapping the Arabic Blogosphere - Berkman Center for Internet & Society

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Internet & Democracy Case Study Series

Mapping the Arabic Blogosphere: Politics, Culture, and Dissent By Bruce Etling, John Kelly, Robert Faris, and John Palfrey

JUNE 2009 Berkman Center Research Publication No. 2009-06

at Harvard University

Mapping the Arabic Blogosphere: Politics, Culture, and Dissent

ABOUT THE INTERNET & DEMOCRACY PROJECT This case study is part of a series of studies produced by the Internet & Democracy Project, a research initiative at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, which investigates the impact of the Internet on civic engagement and democratic processes. More information on the Internet & Democracy Project can be found at: The project’s initial case studies investigated three frequently cited examples of the Internet’s influence on democracy. The first case looked at the user-generated news site OhmyNews and its impact on the 2002 elections in South Korea. The second documented the role of technology in Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. The third analyzed the network composition and content of the Iranian blogosphere. Fall 2008 saw the release of a new series of case studies, which broadened the scope of our research and examined some less well-known parts of the research landscape. In a pair of studies, we reviewed the role of networked technologies in the 2007 civic crises of Burma's Saffron Revolution and Kenya’s post-election turmoil. In April 2009, Urs Gasser's three-part case study examined the role of technology in Switzerland’s semi-direct democracy. This case expands on our study of foreign blogospheres with an analysis of the Arabic blogosphere. This paper would not have been possible without the assistance of many individuals. The authors wish to thank our Arabic speaking coders for their tireless efforts reading and interpreting blogs; Anita Patel and Jason Callina for development work on the coding tool; Tim Hwang for research assistance; Lexie Koss for layout and design of the case; Helmi Noman, Noha Atef, and Jillian York for assistance understanding national blogospheres in the region, interpretation of YouTube videos, plus feedback on the draft; and Terry Fisher and Karina Alexanyan for their comments on the draft. Any errors remain our own.


Mapping the Arabic Blogosphere: Politics, Culture, and Dissent

KEY FINDINGS This study explores the structure and content of the Arabic blogosphere using link analysis, term frequency analysis, and human coding of individual blogs. We identified a base network of approximately 35,000 active Arabic language blogs (about half as many as we found in a previous study of the Persian blogosphere), discovered several thousand Arabic blogs with mixed use of Arabic, English and French, created a network map of the 6,000 most connected blogs, and with a team of Arabic speakers hand coded over 4,000 blogs. The goal for the study was to produce a baseline assessment of the networked public sphere in the Arab Middle East, and its relationship to a range of emergent issues, including politics, media, religion, culture, and international affairs. We found: •

A Country-Based Network: We found that the Arabic blogosphere is organized primarily around countries. We found the primary groupings in the Arabic language blogosphere to be: - Egypt - this is by far the largest cluster and includes several distinct subclusters, one of which is characterized by secular reformist bloggers, and another by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that is technically illegal in Egypt but whose online presence appears to be tolerated. - Saudi Arabia - this comprises the second largest cluster and focuses more on personal diaries and less on politics than other groups. - Kuwait - this cluster is divided into two sub-clusters based on bloggers’ language preferences, splitting those that write primarily in English from those that use Arabic. Both groups focus heavily on domestic news and polit