Debate will look at social media's influence in Middle East uprisings

October 19, 2011

Social media's role in the rise of the Arab Spring will be examined during the Schreyer Honors College's third annual Oxford Debate, being held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 26, in the HUB Auditorium on Penn State's University Park campus.

“The Arab Spring is one of the first real global events that has showed that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube aren’t just for pictures of friends of music videos – they can be used as catalysts for social movements,” says Brenna Thorpe, a senior Schreyer Scholar majoring in public relations and communication arts and sciences who will be arguing in favor of the motion. “I hope this debate can show that social media is the next horizon in communication.“

The debate will follow a format established by Britain's Oxford Student Union. Two teams, each consisting of a Penn State faculty member and two Penn State students, will present opening statements before answering questions posed by those in the audience. The resolution being debated is “the presence of social media is responsible for the Arab Spring.”

The panelists arguing in favor of the motion will be:

  • John Bagby, a professor of information sciences and technology in the College of Information Sciences and Technology and co-director of the Institute for Information Policy in the College of Communications
  • Brenna Thorpe, a senior Scholar majoring in public relations and communication arts and sciences
  • Jake Simon, a junior majoring in political science and philosophy

Those arguing against the motion will include:

  • Amit Schejter, associate professor in the College of Communications and co-director of the college’s Institute for Information Policy
  • Brian Shiue, a first-year Scholar majoring in political science, history and economics
  • Felix Weigel, a sophomore majoring in liberal arts and a member of the Presidential Leadership Academy

“Attendees can expect to learn a lot more about the subject in a short amount of time,” says Thorpe, who is participating in her third Oxford Debate. “It's essentially a crash-course on the issue at hand from both sides instead of from a biased perspective.”

Audience members will enter the auditorium through doors indicating whether they are for or against the resolution. At the conclusion of the debate, audience members will be asked to indicate whether their position remained unchanged or if their opinion shifted as a result of the arguments presented. The winning team will be determined by the number of audience members whose opinion shifted over the course of the debate.

According to Thorpe, the Oxford Debate’s unique style “really shows what kind of arguments impact people and how public speaking can actually influence the minds of others.” The debate is being cosponsored by the Presidential Leadership Academy. Admission is free and open to the public. For more information, visit



Last Updated January 09, 2015