KU News Service

Journalism professor analyzes Internet connectivity among 'Arab spring' nations

Tue, 01/24/2012

Hyunjin Seo

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LAWRENCE — As one nation after another rose up against its government during last year’s Arab Spring, there were plenty of media accounts of the revolutionaries using social media and the Internet. However, there was not analysis of how Internet availability and connectivity has evolved in the part of the world that was the epicenter of revolution in 2011.

Hyunjin Seo, assistant professor of journalism at the University of Kansas, has authored a study examining how countries in the Middle East and North Africa have seen their Internet availability change from 2002 to 2010. Co-authored by Stuart J. Thorson of Syracuse University, it will be published in the Journal of Communication.

“I’ve always been interested in how countries are connected,” Seo said. “In this digital age, I think it is important to understand the patterns of communication between countries.”

Studies have been done to quantify Internet traffic between countries, and others simply assumed connectivity has increased. Seo and Thorson conducted a network analysis of Internet infrastructure for further study.

“Internet infrastructure is a leading indicator of where things are going, whereas Internet traffic is more of a current snapshot of where things are right now,” Seo said. “Internet traffic can also be misleading in some cases because of a high proportion of spam and so on.”

The authors analyzed data from TeleGeography, an organization that tracks global Internet usage. They focused on the Middle East and North Africa as countries in the region, including Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and others with prominent civil uprisings last year. Seo is careful to point out that Internet and social media cannot be credited, or blamed, for the uprisings, but they did find some interesting patterns.

In almost all countries in the region, availability and bandwidth increased in the time frame studied. However, the quality of their connections was just as important as the quantity. Countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar all saw their connections grow with traditional Internet giants such as the United States and United Kingdom, but also among each other. Those connections are important, Seo said, as they allowed people to share tactics between Egypt and Bahrain, for example.

Seo likens the quality and number of connections, known as eigenvector centrality, to two people who use Facebook. If two users each had 100 friends, but the second person’s friends had an average of 200 friends to the first person’s average of 100, the second person is considered more important in the Facebook network. Ultimately, it will be easier for the second to continue to gain more friends through the connections he or she has established. Likewise, countries that had wide and important connections in 2002 continued to remain important actors in the global Internet network compared with those that did not in the time period studied.

As connectivity and bandwidth in countries grew, so did use of social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and others. Seo also points out there is no direct correlation between connectivity and success or failure of a revolution. After all, citizens are not the only ones to use the Internet; dictators, state media and others used it for their own purposes as well.

“We can’t say Internet is what made the uprisings possible, but it is important we understand the interplay of both connection and uprisings instead of just focusing on one or the other,” Seo said.

The authors hope to expand their research to look at behavior and political activity as it relates to social media usage as well as social media contexts in relation to advertising.

Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner. See it here:
Rock Chalk! Junior Ashlie Koehn named KU's 18th Truman Scholar
Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening.

.@KU bschool 's KIP team includes @KU _SADP students in all-ages housing project. #KUworks
Wanna Skype? Chancellor gets creative to surprise Truman winner From KU News Service: Ashlie Koehn, a University of Kansas junior from Burns studying in Kyrgyzstan, interrupted helping her host family prepare dinner to make a Skype call on Monday evening. To her surprise, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little was on the other end of the call letting Koehn know she had been named a 2015 Harry S. Truman Scholar. Koehn is the 18th KU student to be named a Truman Scholar and the only 2015 recipient from the state of Kansas. Earlier this month, she was also named a 2015 Udall Scholar. And in spite of a distance of more than 10,800 kilometers and 11 time zones, Koehn’s thrill from hearing the news from the chancellor came through loud and clear. “Ashlie’s experience at KU epitomizes a quality undergraduate experience. She challenged herself in her coursework, exposed herself to different research opportunities, studied abroad in Germany, Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan, and participated in both student government and community service projects,” Gray-Little said. “This is quite a year for Ashlie. Her hard work is a wonderful reflection on her and also a great reflection on the university, and we all congratulate her.” Each new Truman Scholar receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Koehn, a member of KU’s nationally recognized University Honors Program, is majoring in environmental studies, economics and international studies. Her goal after earning her KU degree is to pursue a master’s degree in economics at either the London School of Economics or the University of Reading, with a focus on the economics of climate change. In 2014, she received KU’s Newman Civic Engagement Award for her work establishing the Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking. Her involvement with the issue was sparked by Hannah Britton, associate professor of political science and women, gender, and sexuality studies, who hosted national conference on contemporary slavery at KU three years ago. “Ashlie and I met several times to think about what KU students could contribute to the issue of slavery and human trafficking, and the result was her founding of KU CAST,” Britton said. “After a year as president, Ashlie successfully handed the organization over to the next student leader. She demonstrated her strong leadership qualities by setting a unique goal and then pursuing it with her sense of passion, engagement and dedication. No matter the country or context, her leadership strength is evident in her coursework, her public service and her work experiences.” The University Honors Program works with a campus committee to select KU’s nominees for the Truman Scholarship and supports them during the application process. Anne Wallen, assistant director of national fellowships and scholarships, noted it was an amazing ruse to pull off the surprise. Originally, the call was set up to be between Wallen and Koehn. “I was totally not prepared to be greeted by Chancellor Gray-Little, but it was an amazing surprise for sure,” Koehn said. “As a first-generation student, it took time to learn the collegiate system, but my parents taught me to be resourceful and independent from a young age and KU and the Kansas Air National Guard have provided me with the opportunities to drive me into the future, both at graduate school and in my career. I plan to use the Truman Scholarship to pursue a career as an environmental economist helping to shape future trade agreements and leverage action on important international environmental issues, particularly concerning climate change.” Koehn also had a surprise of her own for the chancellor — the meal she was helping to prepare was not exactly typical Kansas dinner fare. On the menu with her host family in Kyrgyzstan on Monday was a traditional Kyrgyz meal called Beshbarmak, or “five fingers,” because you eat it with your hands. The dish is made of horse and sheep and was being prepared as a birthday celebration for Koehn’s host mom. Chancellor Gray-Little, as she signed off from Skype, made sure to encourage Koehn to enjoy her Beshbarmak. Koehn is the daughter of Rodney and Carolyn Koehn of Burns. She graduated from Fredric Remington High School in Moundridge. She is an active member of the Kansas Air National Guard and currently on leave while studying abroad in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. She is a member of the KU Global Scholars Program and a past member of the Student Senate. In addition to being named a 2015 Truman and Udall scholar, she was named a 2014 Boren Scholar and Gilman Scholar and in 2013 was named the Kansas Air National Guard Airman of the Year.

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