[This is a syndicated post from the blog: Egypt.]
Lamees Dhaif, Bahraini journalist and author, lost four jobs and was banned from writing, but remained engaged in the cause she endorsed; she explains how she benefited from social media. Lamees has 60,000 followers on Twitter; almost 20,000, on Facebook; and 43,000, on her website. The largest newspaper in Bahrain prints 12,000 copies a day; “Who needs the media?” she asks with pride.
Shatha Al-Harazi, a Yemeni blogger, refers to social media as “…heaven; it makes me competitive and protects me from harassment.” She can advocate her cause off her laptop while in the comfort of her own living room—hassle free. And Dalia Zeyada, a blogger from Egypt, believes that social media is a space where one can express his/her mind without fear or limitations. She advocates Twitter and Facebook insisting that both played major roles in bringing the views of revolutionists to the forefront.
Lamees and the others are excellent examples of how Arabs in general, and Arab women in particular, have cleverly utilized social media in promoting their causes. These particular activists were speaking at Change Your World Cairo 2012 (http://www.yhumanrightsblog.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Final-January-11-Agenda-for-Cairo-Change-your-World-.pdf). During the discussions that ensued, they all expressed their gratitude to social media.
These citizen journalists exemplify the role social media plays—during crucial times—in disseminating and getting information to other Arabs. But this goes beyond a conference that backs social media; it is definitely the way in today’s Arab World.
The Arab World is still juvenile in modernity and democracy: it has remained subdued under the auspices of dictators for decades as it watched the modern world go by. Through social media, it is beginning to catch up in leaps and bounds especially where freedom of speech is concerned.
Scott Martelle, in the LA Times’ review of Wael Ghoneim’s memoirs—“Book Review: Revolution 2.0: The Power of the People is Greater than the People in Power,” explains how Wael, a Egyptian hero created on Facebook, anonymously launched the page “We Are All Khaled Said.” It was in response to the beating death of Khaled Said, a fellow Egyptian, at the hands of two Egyptian State Security officers.
Ghonim's first posting was filled with sorrow and disdain: "Today they killed Khaled. If I don't act for his sake, tomorrow they will kill me." According to the review, within minutes, the page had 300 members, and it continued to grow at a rapid pace, eventually reaching 350,000. It soon became an online venue for all concerned to air their frustration of Mubarak’s dominating reign.
Ghonim credits social media for its ability to connect Egyptian activists, for this social media offspring was the beginning of the resounding movement that became January 25th and led to the toppling of Mubarak. Of course, once the momentum grew beyond Facebook, it became a different entity. It became a revolution.
And the barriers, in general, have been lowered; money, means, and authority stopped being the sole players. Anyone can now influence, be it an ordinary woman tweeting from her home, or a young activist inciting followers from afar. Social media has given the ordinary Arab a voice—an extraordinarily marvelous voice, which can reach earnest and avid ordinary Arabs everywhere.
This newly acquired freedom has given Arabs free will even if they are besieged. Syrian tweeters inform the world of events in Syria with immediacy and on an ongoing basis.
All the above is positive. Still, citizen journalists need to remain credible and accountable. They must realize it is a public domain akin to regular media, and that they could be held accountable in a similar fashion.
Hence, profanity, cursing, blasphemy, or mere hearsay are libelous on social media the same way as they are libelous in any newspaper. And Arab citizen journalists should be aware of this. In Egypt many tweeters have been held accountable by authorities for inciting others, slandering authorities, and tweeting hearsay or unauthenticated information.
And, they must remain vigilant and aware of not only their right to speak freely but also the rights of the public. Ramifications exist. They must ask themselves if their stories add up and can stand in court. Pseudonyms and anonymity are superficial. Everyone is accountable—always.
Most importantly Arab social media users must remain responsible. They must be aware of how effective and influential they are. And this can go either way. As much as it is an enlightening beacon to the happenings in the Arab World, social media can be an inciting and unfortunately manipulative hand in destruction and mayhem.
Remember: on social media news spreads like fire. Say SCAF is responsible for the killings in Portsaid and the football fans will attack the Interior Defense Ministry. Retweet a dubious thought about “poisonous” tear gas, and you are fanning the flames that lead to many deaths. Call on people to boycott an event, and no one shows up.
Let’s hope that Egyptians, and Arabs, continue to enjoy this new source of freedom wisely and don’t go overboard with it.