The Potential and Limitations 
of Twitter Activism: Mapping the 2011 Libyan Uprising

  • Simon Lindgren Umeå University
Keywords: activism, social media, networks, discourse


This article aims to shed more light on the potentials and limitations of social media as a tool for activists. It does this by focusing on the use of one particular social media platform —  Twitter — during one specific period of a certain uprising: the first 24 hours of protests in Libya during the Arab Spring in 2011. Even though this study is thus limited, it represents an important step in the direction of analyzing what actually happens when social media is put to use in relation to concrete events. The identified social network patterns, as well as the content of the posts, resonate with what Enzensberger (1970) calls “emancipatory use of media”: The architecture is decentralized, network connections are distributed, and mobilization and self-organization is going on. It must be realized however, that seeds of such emancipatory use does not necessarily preclude “repressive use of media”.

Author Biography

Simon Lindgren, Umeå University

Simon Lindgren is Professor of Sociology at Umeå University, Sweden. He researches digital culture with a focus on how new media audiences navigate the border landscape between the new potentials for participation and activism on the one hand, and the risks for exclusion and exploitation on the other. Simon is actively taking part in developing theoretical as well as methodological tools for analyzing discursive and social network aspects of the emerging new media landscape. He has published internationally on themes like hacktivism, digital piracy, citizen journalism, subcultural creativity, popular culture and visual politics. More information can be found at