Occupy Bahrain vs. Feb14: Frames and Social Movement Communities on Facebook

Abstract

Drawing on six different Facebook sites, I explore frame and identity choices of the Bahraini pro-democracy movement, active on streets and social media since early 2011. I investigate why organizations with national goals choose to situate themselves within larger international frames, specifically those of the Arab spring and the Occupy movement. Further, I analyze how frames and identities are co-constructed through profile design, wall content, and interaction/participation.

Research questions

  1. Why is the Feb14 movement reframing itself–at least in part–as Occupy Bahrain? Or, to approach it in another way, what does it mean to be “Occupy”? What is the movement’s international brand identity and why would a national movement choose to situate itself within this international identity?
  2. What characteristics define social movement communities on Facebook? How do such social movement communities negotiate individual-group, local-global, and public-private dialectics? Do the characteristics of these communities constitute rupture, continuity, or both with regard to previous social movement communities?

Cases

The six Facebook organizations chosen represent three different categories; two that present themselves as Feb14 pages, two that have rebranded themselves as Occupy Bahrain pages, and two US/world Occupy pages. These pages are further interlinked; e.g., through their “likes” with  ثورة 14 فبراير في البحرين [the February 14 revolution in Bahrain] liking both ملتقى البحرين [Occupy Bahrain] and Occupy Wall St.

On February 14, 2011, Bahrainis, inspired by the successes of pro-democracy movements in Tunisia and Egypt, took to the streets and social media to demonstrate peacefully for constitutional reform and the establishment of an independent body to investigate abuses of institutional power. Bahrain arguably represents the only example in the Arab spring of an authoritarian Arab regime successfully suppressing protests with violence. While limited physical protests have continued despite the governmental crackdown–and on March 9, 2012, tens of thousands of Bahrainis took to the streets–a robust contestation of institutional structures of power has been occurring online.

This social media battle has been multilayered and complicated, involving not just Facebook and Twitter presences for pro-democracy groups and pro-government groups, but also online identification/targeting campaigns[1], and trolling and hashtag flooding[2], run by the latter. Pro-government groups have repeatedly sought to reframe protests as sectarian conflict driven by Iranian provocateurs. At the same time, pro-democracy groups have framed their movement within the context of larger international movements. The name “February 14 Revolution” and its associated hashtag, #Feb14, both explicitly connect the protests not only to the January 25 Revolution in Egypt, but also to a broader global community in which English is the dominant lingua franca. More recently, the March 9, 2012 protest was framed as part of Occupy Bahrain.[3]

The strong, contentious social media battle, plus the recent reframing of the pro-democracy movement within the Occupy frame make Bahrain an ideal case for both frame analysis and an exploration of the constitutive elements of online social movement communities. A three-way comparison, drawing on Bahraini organizations that have maintained their Feb14 frame, Bahraini organizations that have now adopted an Occupy frame, and US/world Occupy organizations, will offer useful scope for investigating these issues.

Research methods

To delve into issues of framing and the negotiation of individual-group/local-global identity, I will examine linguistic choices, with particular regard to dialect-standard choices, the linguistic markers associated with Sunni and Shia Bahrainis, and netspeak. Further, to investigate the constitutive elements of social movement communities on Facebook, I will analyze content from the six Facebook pages, including profile images, profile information, and wall posts, with regard to hypertext, media type, comments, and likes.

Tools

After an initial period of exploratory research to identify relevant categories and their associated variables, I will code and compile data in a Google spreadsheet. Additionally, I will be relying on the research of Clive Holes, one of the few sociolinguists to study Bahrain.

Workplan

3/14: present project proposal to class

3/22: identify relevant categories/variables

4/3: code and compile all data

4/11: outline, lit review, preliminary findings

4/25: complete rough draft

5/16: final presentation


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s