While monitoring social media definitely serves as an important thermometer providing an insight and an indication to the general mood in a particular society or country, one should not mistake the various views made by random users with official statements that only authorized government personnel are meant to issue.
Furthermore, I believe media outlets should refrain from rushing to report on “trending topics” for the sole purpose of gaining traffic, increasing audience or selling more copies. Our duty as professional journalists is not to simply regurgitate whatever the hashtag de-jour dictates, but to fact-check, analyze and dig deeper before reporting.
One thing we must admit lacking in the Arab world — at large — are trusted opinion polls and credible research institutes. Sadly, until this is solved, the Middle East will continue to be obsessed with conspiracy theories as the line between what is fact and what is fiction remains blurry.
A recent trending topic on Twitter was a preposterous petition of ridding Saudi Arabia of all expats. Leaving aside the impracticality of such a claim (this would be impossible to implement and would have tremendous harm on various levels), I would like to comment on the appalling, racist language which was used in this hashtag.
First and foremost, any expat living in Saudi Arabia must understand that social media users represent only themselves and not the general public. Yes, it may seem on that particular hashtag that there are more radical voices than moderate, rationale ones, but that is — sadly — the case with any issue and not just with this one in particular.
The reality is that those who shout, use foul language and present extreme views will always be popular and stand out (and media-savvy terrorist organizations like Daesh understand this very well). The same applies for rumors and unsubstantiated information, as many of us — sadly — don't remember that “a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.”
Secondly, “hats-off” to those who went onto that hashtag and ridiculed the racist motives behind it. The truth is expats have lived in the Kingdom for a very long time and they are a key component in the history, development, improvement and expansion of this country.
The truth is — silliness and provocative claims aside — nobody in their right mind can imagine even living a day without the expats! This is not just because of all the incredible — and much appreciated — experience and work that they do, but also because many of them are now our beloved spouses, relatives, friends, neighbors and partners.
Success stories achieved by expats who have lived, or continue to live, here are just countless and can't possibly be contained in one column. However, as someone who has long been around expats in this country, and in other places around the world, I can safely add that there is a tremendous “added-value” which the expat community enjoys here.
Contrary to what some people on Twitter might think, expats are NOT opportunists. Most of them — at least the ones I had the pleasure to get to know throughout my life — have a big affection for the Kingdom and have contributed and reinvested tremendously in it.
If I were to pick one story to share, I would choose to remind us all of Pakistani national and Karate champion Farman Ali Khan, who lost his life after saving 14 others from drowning during the 2009 Jeddah floods. Farman was posthumously awarded the King Abdulaziz Medal of the First Order and until this day remains a symbol of the affection and sacrifice expats are willing to give this country.
Last but certainly not least, we should not forget that the only position which really matters is the official one. I don't think there could be a better indicator of how welcome everyone should feel in this country after the recent reforms and future plans which include a possible "green-card" arrangement for expats who have lived, contributed and wish to remain here.
Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News. He can be reached on Twitter @FaisalJAbbas