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Facebook, Political Narrative, and Political Change: A Case Study of Palestinian Youth


In this dissertation I aim to advance political narrative theory by exploring the use of political narrative on Facebook and the possibility for Facebook to be used among Palestinian youth for political change. To examine the concepts of political narrative and political change, I developed a model for political change based on the changing political narratives which in part prompted the 2011 Egyptian revolution. The model, Political Narrative Perspectives (PNPs), identifies individual and reported collective beliefs regarding the relationship and responsibilities associated with government and citizenry, and may be used to track political change as a byproduct of changing beliefs. To explore this model within the Palestinian context, I conducted a multiple-case case study in which I followed the Facebook activity of 14 Palestinian youth (7 male, 7 female; aged 18-27) for one year (January 1--December 31, 2011), coding 10 percent of their Facebook posts (N=1,371 of 13,710 posts) using content analysis. I combine this research with interviews to contextualize the content analysis. The youth participants of this study were selected for their similarity on several measures to the Egyptian youth leaders who spearheaded political change efforts on Facebook: 1) university-educated, 2) of the Millennial generation, 3) internationally traveled, 4) politically concerned, and 5) fluent in English.

The Facebook posts were coded and analyzed according to type, content and language as well as by the four PNPs which I outline in this dissertation: External State Political Narrative (ESPN), Internal State Political Narrative (ISPN), External Citizen Political Narrative (ECPN) and Internal Citizen Political Narrative (ICPN). PNPs were analyzed initially through what I have termed "direct" PNP use: participants post political opinion comments about Palestine on their Facebook wall which reflected a PNP. Following this, I conducted a secondary analysis in which I analyzed posts according to what I have termed (1) "indirect" and (2) "passive" political narrative perspectives; that is, (1) participants posted Palestine-related news stories on their Facebook wall which reflected a PNP, or (2) participants posted content on their Facebook wall unrelated to Palestine which reflected a PNP.

The results of this study indicate that PNPs in total comprised 15.3 percent of all participants' Facebook posts. The remainder (84.7 percent) of Facebook post content reflected topics such as hobbies, music, technology, literature/quotes, religion, relationships, and personal stories and anecdotes, suggesting that these youth in many ways use Facebook like other youth their age. While 15.3 percent may seem a relatively low number of PNPs for politically-concerned participants, 86 percent of participants noted that they felt restricted on Facebook, most notably by the Israeli and Palestinian authorities (which monitor and at times punish for certain Facebook content), but also by family and friends and by religious and social mores. Without these restrictions, 64 percent of participants stated they would critique Israel, 57 percent of participants stated they would critique the Palestinian government, and 49 percent stated they would critique Palestinian society.

The prospects for using Facebook for political change in Palestine, as in Egypt, seem relatively dim given the perceived and actual restrictions that Palestinians encounter when using Facebook. The prospects for change seem dimmer still when we consider that Egyptian citizens faced one governing oppressor--the Mubarak regime--while Palestinians face political and social oppression from both the Palestinian government (whether by the Palestinian Authority (PA) or Hamas) and a U.S.-backed Israeli authority. The PNPs do offer some hope, however, as well as help to shed light on the political change process. Unlike in Egypt, where an initial change in Internal Citizen Political Narrative (ICPN), a secondary change in External Citizen Political Narrative (ECPN) and a tertiary change in Internal State Political Narrative (ISPN) ultimately resulted in a change in External State Political Narrative (ESPN), in Palestine, it appears the opposite direction would be most effective to bring political change. In other words, in Palestine, it appears the External State Political Narrative (ESPN) would do well to change first, resulting in a subsequent change in Internal State Political Narrative (ISPN), External Citizen Political Narrative (ECPN), and Internal Citizen Political Narrative (ICPN). It appears the moral image which Palestinians appear to use to win the war for comparative moral high ground with Israel may indeed be hindering them from achieving political change. While these results offer potential insights into possibilities, the Political Narrative Perspective (PNP) model will need further testing and development through future research.

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