Social media for the masses

It has been argued that social media’s role in the Arab uprisings has been overplayed partly because Twitter and Facebook are only available to a small, relatively elite section of Arab society.
But this argument often fails to note that much of the subversive social media content, particularly the videos uploaded to Youtube and Facebook do make their way to audiences across the region via the satellite television channels that have been picking them up. 
And as shown in the photo above, satellite television is virtually ubiquitous in the Arab world, from the corridors of power to the shanty towns and refugee camps. 
The photo above is a Syrian laborer shack in Mount Lebanon. The men told me they watch satellite channels every night:
Indeed, despite a lack of plumbing or proper shelter, the satellite dish remains an affordable necessity:

This is just one of many satellite-equipped labor shacks that can be found across Mount Lebanon and the entire country.

Satellite dishes are also widespread in the most populated slums such as Shatila refugee camp, where local distributors told me 90 percent of residents are connected. And due to rampant piracy, home satellite connections in Lebanon can be arranged for as little as $10 per month.

At another labor camp in Beirut- where Syrian refugees were living in a rusted shipping container– I was recently asked by one of the men if I could help him download Skype on his old beat-up Blackberry. In fact, Skype groups have evolved as one of many unconventional news distribution channels emerging in Syria.

On the other hand, I’ve also seen several Syrian doormen possessing Iphones in Beirut. Whether they are connected to Twitter or not, it seems an increasing number of low income Arab citizens are getting online in ways that may not always be easily quantifiable by researchers.