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Information about human rights abuses and civilian resistance efforts, critiques of NATO forces, even jokes—these were among the things Libyans broadcast to the world via tweets during the 2011 conflict.
Ellen Noble ’13, a Political Science and Philosophy double major with a concentration in Human Rights and Humanitarianism, analyzed these tweets (over 7,000 of them) to explore the ways in which social media was used by Libyans to challenge the dominant hero-victim narrative of humanitarian crises. Her analysis was part of her honors thesis, entitled Social Media and Transformation of the Humanitarian Narrative: A Comparative Analysis of Humanitarianism in Libya 2011 and Bosnia 1994.
When asked what inspired her to take on this daunting research task, Noble pointed to two things: her interest in the Libyan revolution and the Arab Spring movement in general, and her coursework at Macalester. “The Libyan Revolution was in full swing during my sophomore year, so like many other Macalester students, I spent a lot of time watching Al Jazeera and tracking all the developments,” she says. “Before the Arab Spring, our generation hadn’t lived through many revolutionary movements, so I still had my idealism intact. The Libyan Revolution was even more exciting because I could follow developments in real time through Twitter. I had fully adopted the role of the spectator glamorizing the revolution.”
The course that sparked her interest in Twitter was political science professor Wendy Weber’s class Humanitarianism in World Politics. In that class she read Anne Orford’s book Reading Humanitarian Intervention, “which really explained how discourse, which we tend to think of as an airy academic concept, can directly influence policy.” Noble explored that conept further in political science professor David Blaney’s class Advanced Theories of International Relations, which dug deep into literature on constructivist thought. It was in that class that Noble designed her honors project.
This fall Noble—now a graduate student at Georgetown University pursuing a joint degree in law and international security—was invited to present her research at the Norway House 2013 Dialogue for Peace on Social Media: War or Peace in 140 Characters, held in Minneapolis.