The Geopolitics of Social Media in Eurasia

Social media and its effect on the global political scene has been the subject of much discussion since the widespread uprisings that are continuing to play out in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The interest in the political potential of social media has led everyone from the media to academics to ask whether the transformations that are underway in the MENA region will spread to the former Soviet Union? While there are many similarities between the two regions, from long-serving authoritarian leaders to poor economic conditions, there are also numerous differences that will serve to limit the effect of social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter as driving forces for political change in the region. Indeed, the use and effectiveness of social media even in the Arab Spring countries is often misunderstood and overestimated. This is especially true in the former Soviet Union, where internet usage levels – and particularly social media users – are relatively low when compared to their Western counterparts. This is not to say, however, that the former Soviet Union has not or will not continue to see transformative changes – several states in the region are no strangers to revolution and/or widespread political upheaval. But these outcomes are brought about by much more deeply rooted geopolitical forces: political divisions, a geography that hampers high levels of economic development, for instance. Social media is one tool that has contributed to the evolution of national political systems, but it is not the cause of revolutionary change in and of itself.

Authors: Eugene Chausovsky