So­cial me­dia a tool for self-eval­u­a­tion

The Pak Banker - - OPINION - Tariq A. Al Maeena

FROM Mau­ri­ta­nia to Ye­men, the Arab world has seen an in­creas­ing num­ber of blog­gers and tweet­ers ex­press­ing their views and in­ter­ests freely on the in­ter­net, but there are grow­ing con­cerns that gov­ern­ments are be­gin­ning to curb this free­dom.

To be­gin with, let us try to un­der­stand who th­ese blog­gers are and what they seek. There have been many de­scrip­tions of those who suc­cess­fully main­tain blogs or pages on web­sites, al­beit some not so pa­tro­n­is­ing. The di­verse na­ture and back­ground of Arab blog­gers make it im­pos­si­ble to de­fine them in a few sen­tences, but for the most part, blog­gers are in­di­vid­u­als who post and main­tain per­sonal di­aries on a web­site.

The sub­jects they tackle cover a wide spec­trum of is­sues. Some blogs re­late to pho­tog­ra­phy while oth­ers re­late to so­cial events and hap­pen­ings. Some are slightly more nar­cis­sist and de­vote them­selves en­tirely to the in­di­vid­u­al­ity and spirit of the blog-owner. Th­ese are the per­sonal blogs in which the blog­ger writes about his per­sonal de­tails, emo­tions, ex­pe­ri­ences, or his or her take on a host of topics, in­clud­ing the po­lit­i­cal arena.

Then there is the com­pany or cor­po­rate blog that is of­ten set up by ma­jor or­gan­i­sa­tions to fa­cil­i­tate the flow of com­mu­ni­ca­tion within the com­pany. It may also be ac­ces­si­ble to in­ter­ested clients. Ex­ter­nal cor­po­rate blogs help com­mu­ni­cate in­for­ma­tion to the pub­lic in terms of mar­ket­ing and brand­ing of prod- ucts and ser­vices. In­ter­nal cor­po­rate blogs are cre­ated to share in­for­ma­tion and views within the or­gan­i­sa­tion and are of­ten re­stricted to em­ploy­ees within the com­pany.

There is also the pro­fes­sional blog - a site where ex­per­tise on cer­tain sub­jects or topics is dis­cussed. The site is usu­ally lim­ited to hob­by­ists and those in­ter­ested in spe­cific in­dus­tries or ob­jects, and who visit to in­ter­act on their par­tic­u­lar sub­ject of in­ter­est.

Tweet­ers are those who post items they con­sider of in­ter­est on the Twit­ter web site. Th­ese posts are could be short sen­tences de­scrib­ing emo­tions, ex­pla­na­tions or links to other sto­ries. They are also be used to cir­cu­late in­for­ma­tion faster than the stan­dard me­dia or­gans. They can be au­thored by any­one who wants to add their two cents worth their fancy.

The Arab awak­en­ing that has been wit­nessed across sev­eral coun­tries in re­cent times has given rise to a num­ber of blog­gers and tweet­ers who have used this fo­rum for ex­press­ing their con­cerns over so­cial and po­lit­i­cal events tak­ing place in their coun­try. Many of them have come un­der fire from the au­thor­i­ties, with some be­ing ar­rested and jailed for self-ex­pres­sion.

Some gov­ern­ments have taken to sup­press­ing in­ter­net ac­cess to cer­tain web­sites in the hope of smoth­er­ing th­ese grow­ing voices. Oth­ers have re­sorted to mon­i­tor­ing and fol­low­ing the ac­tiv­i­ties of tar­geted users, some of whom are be­ing held on charges of civil dis­obe­di­ence or worse yet, ter­ror­ism against the state.

to what­ever


But are those charges valid? Is Twit­ter or Face­book or the in­ter­net re­spon­si­ble for the changes sweep­ing across th­ese coun­tries? Was it Twit­ter that brought down the government of Zine Al Abidine Bin Ali, the former Tu­nisian pres­i­dent who ruled the coun­try for 24 years?

Was it the in­ter­net that led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, former pres­i­dent of Egypt, who ruled with a strong hand from 1981 to 2011? Was it Face­book that brought down Muam­mar Gaddafi, who ruled Libya from 1969 un­til his end in 2011, a pe­riod span­ning 42 years.

And is it the in­ter­net or its many so­cial me­dia sites that have cre­ated the on­go­ing mis­ery in Syria? The daily num­ber of in­no­cent lives be­ing brought down is done so with bul­lets and not with words ex­pressed on any me­dia out­let.

While in­for­ma­tion has be­come read­ily avail­able and ac­ces­si­ble, it would be im­pru­dent to as­sume that such ac­cess has led to the up­heavals in th­ese coun­tries.

It was the cor­rupt and morally de­cay­ing poli­cies of the rul­ing government against their peo­ple that laid seed to the re­jec­tion and ul­ti­mately the ouster of the re­spec­tive gov­ern­ments. It was poli­cies of deny­ing their ci­ti­zens their ba­sic needs and rights which led to the dic­ta­tors' down­fall. When per­sonal safety and se­cu­rity be­came com­pro­mised and rights were de­nied, the cit­i­zen had noth­ing more to lose. Only the warped and men­tally un­bal­anced seek to bring in­sta­bil­ity to their coun­tries. Peo­ple for the most part want a safe and se­cure

so­cial coun­try where their ba­sic hu­man rights are recog­nised and hon­oured. When gov­ern­ments re­spond to the needs of the peo­ple in the man­ner ex­pected, no threat from any quar­ters would shake the res­o­lu­tion of the ma­jor­ity of ci­ti­zens to group to­gether and con­front such at­tacks. Gov­ern­ments must steer away from the con­cept that so­cial me­dia is a threat to good gov­er­nance. Crit­i­cism ex­pressed on blogs or tweets against some government poli­cies should not be viewed as a sub­ver­sive at­tempt to bring down the government. At its best, it is the sim­plest form of self-ex­pres­sion. It could also serve as a pos­i­tive tool for self-eval­u­a­tion by government agen­cies.

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