The Arabic Twittersphere shows deep-seeded opposition to outsiders' intervention in the Middle East, professors Amaney Jamal, Robert Keohane and Dustin Tingley and Ph.D. student David Romney found in their recently published report, "Anti-Americanism and Anti-Interventionism in Arabic Twitter Discourses."
Jamal is a politics professor at the University, Keohane is a Wilson School professor, Romney is a Ph.D. student at Harvard and Tingley is a professor of political economy at Harvard.
Published on Sept. 25, the study examined how the amount of Arabic anti-Americanism on Twitter varied with current events and whether the expressed anti-Americanism was critical of American society as a whole or specifically of the United States' political intervention in the Middle East.Jamal is a politics professor at the University, Keohane is a Wilson School professor, Romney is a Ph.D. student at Harvard and Tingley is a professor of political economy at Harvard.
Jamal explained that the inspiration for this study came from Keohane, who had previously studied topics including anti-Americanism in the Middle East.
"[Keohane] was talking to a colleague of his at Harvard, Gary King, who had developed this new program on social media," Jamal said. "What happened was he realized we could use the social media to ask interesting research questions related to the phenomenon of anti-Americanism."
While discussing the results of the study in a presentation on Oct. 3 at the Wilson School, Romney highlighted the usefulness of Twitter as not only a cost-effective research vessel but also as substantive and self-generated. Tweeters, he noted, have become an important group in and of themselves in modern society.
However, the researchers did encounter some challenges working with Twitter.
"In general, analyzing Twitter data is really a more or less new research device," Jamal said. "We're used to analyzing quantitative data or survey data that come in the form of macroeconomic or macropolitical indicators. One of the specific challenges was how to make sense of this data."
Crimson Hexagon, a social media analysis company, worked with the researchers to set specific parameters to select relevant tweets for analysis, including keywords and key times. The study considered general Arabic attitudes toward the United States, particularly gauging reactions to the Syrian Civil War and Egyptian military coup, the release of the "Innocence of Muslims" video, the Boston marathon bombings and Hurricane Sandy.
Tingley summarized the study's findings as showing a resounding opposition to the intervention of the United States in the Middle East, which was not matched by an equal opposition to American society itself.
The study showed that tweets about American politics outnumbered tweets about American society 4:1 with negative tweets outnumbering positive 3:1.
Will McCants, a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy and director of the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution, noted that the results of the study mirrored the longstanding attitudes of people in the Arab world regarding the United States.
"[The Arab world has] become anti-American because of our long history of intervention," he said. "[The United States is] the superpower, so we naturally attract unhappy views if we don't do something, or if we do something, because we're seen as being the driving force behind all events in the region."
Anti-interventionism proved a central theme in the study, as the Arab Twitter world criticized Iran for its intervention in the region so much so that there were not enough positive tweets about Iran to register a category in the research.
As the American government forges ahead in its relations with the Middle East, Tingley noted that the findings of this study may shed light on ways in which the United States can best proceed without further alienating itself in the eyes of the Arab world.
"It's clear to many people that not intervening is a bad idea, but we can't expect to intervene and pay no cost in the eyes of many individuals in the Middle East," Tingley said.