Following ‘electronic social media intelligently is essential’

Roger Harrison
Updated 04 December 2019

Following ‘electronic social media intelligently is essential’

  • Arab News caught up with Harrison at the inaugural Saudi Media Forum in Riyadh

RIYADH: Roger Harrison was a senior reporter at Arab News for the best part of 20 years. Now “keeping the keyboard hot” from his home in Mallorca, he has not retired, but is busy plotting writing projects.
Arab News caught up with Harrison at the inaugural Saudi Media Forum in Riyadh where he was a keynote speaker on Tuesday.
Reflecting on his time with the paper, he observed that the environment was a bit “wild west”.
“I had a car accident and wrote to Arab news — the ‘Green Truth’ was a national institution, and I thought, why not? The letter described the curious and inventive driving habits I had encountered and their result,” he said.
The then editor-in-chief, Khaled Al-Maeena, called him and said the letter was too long to publish. “I thought, well the man had the courtesy to call at least. Then he said something that was to change my life — ‘Can we print it as an article please?’”
It appeared and Al-Maeena called again telling Harrison that the piece had caused what he described an enormous reaction. It was the beginning of a long career and the foundations of a firm friendship.
“I had no experience,” said Harrison. “I learned my trade on the hoof and seemed to please people with the output. I just wonder if that could happen now in the age of the focus on qualifications rather than tangential ability. Mr Khaled took a calculated risk and it seemed to pay off.”
Over the years Harrison covered stories from interviewing the great and the good, travel and even some eccentric but carefully researched pieces that sailed quite close to the wind.
“All that the editor-in-chief was concerned with was: Can you prove what you allege?” If the answer was yes, then it was usually printed.
Being very much a local newspaper, people brought problems to find a solution. On one occasion a large camp of expatriate laborers was found to be living in abject poverty — little or no food having received no wages for months.
“We did some digging, got the facts, wrote the story and printed it,” said Harrison. “A furious phone call resulted demanding my dismissal. I produced the file of documents and evidence, and Al-Maeena politely but firmly defused the caller.”
Harrison recalls that the high point of his time at Arab News was chasing three gliders around the Kingdom with a camera, resulting in a bestselling book.
“I had to make a choice — a fortnight with Boeing in Arizona at a ‘hands on’ experience with Apache gunship helicopters or traveling with Prince Sultan bin Salman and his co pilots around the Kingdom. I chose the latter; it was a seriously good call.”
One of the least glamorous moments was being caught in a dumpster late at night looking for dead cats. “Someone told us that a veterinarian was offering decent burials of pets for good money. But, there was a whisper that this was not so. So, a colleague and I checked. We found a couple of dead cats in the dumpster.”
Then the police turned up — an interesting moment or two ensued as they had to decide what a crazy Englishman was up to holding a bag of dead felines. “Fortunately my colleague had a golden tongue and explained us out of it.”
As to the future of the printed newspaper? Harrison has a very clear view on the importance of critical thinking and fact checking. He observed that printed papers say what you might have read on social media yesterday.
“I think the desire for immediate gratification and information that drives news on social media is a problem that will not go away,” he noted.
“The difference is that the constraints put on printed media to be accurate, truthful and right do not apply to the Internet as much if at all. Therein lies the problem; what is true, what is fact?”
So how to get round that challenge?
Harrison believes that early education in critical thinking and the need to read electronic social media intelligently is essential. “The Internet is our new world; it’s where we live. If we don’t adapt to our new environment, we will suffer hugely, and might not even realize it until too late,” he said.
Still fizzing with ideas, Harrison has some major projects in line involving what he refers to as “my second home”. The “big one” as he calls it involves traveling to all the Kingdom’s official and proposed UNESCO world heritage sites.
“Outside the Kingdom, many people have a one-dimensional view of what the place is like. The fact is that it has an incredible cultural history stretching back twenty millennia and more — it is, culturally, enormously rich. It is time that story was told,” he said.
“In truth,” Harrison concluded, “I never really worked for Arab News. I just followed my passion, had some incredible experiences, learned much, had enormous fun and someone paid me!”


Trump threatens to ‘close down’ social media after tweets tagged

Updated 27 May 2020

Trump threatens to ‘close down’ social media after tweets tagged

  • Twitter for the first time acted against US president's false tweets
  • For years, Twitter has been accused of ignoring the president's breaking of platform rules

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump threatened Wednesday to shutter social media platforms after Twitter for the first time acted against his false tweets, prompting the enraged Republican to double down on unsubstantiated claims and conspiracy theories.
Twitter tagged just two of Trump's tweets in which he'd claimed that more mail-in voting would lead to what he called a "Rigged Election" this November.
There is no evidence that attempts are being made to rig the election and under the tweets Twitter posted a link which read "Get the facts about mail-in ballots."
For years, Twitter has been accused of ignoring the president's breaking of platform rules with his daily, often hourly barrages of personal insults and inaccurate information sent to more than 80 million followers.


But Twitter's slap on the wrist was enough to drive Trump into an early Wednesday morning meltdown -- on Twitter -- in which he claimed that the right-wing in the United States is being censored.
"Republicans feel that Social Media Platforms totally silence conservatives voices. We will strongly regulate, or close them down, before we can ever allow this to happen," he said.
He dived right back into his narrative that an increase in mail-in ballots -- seen in some states as vital for allowing people to avoid crowds during the COVID-19 pandemic -- will undermine the election.
"We can't let large scale Mail-In Ballots take root in our Country. It would be a free for all on cheating, forgery and the theft of Ballots.
"Whoever cheated the most would win. Likewise, Social Media. Clean up your act, NOW!!!!" he wrote.
The president, whose reelection strategy has been knocked off track by the coronavirus pandemic, likewise accused social media platforms of interfering in the last election, saying "we saw what they attempted to do, and failed, in 2016."
An unrepentant Trump also recommenced spreading a conspiracy theory about a prominent television critic, Joe Scarborough, whom the president is trolling with accusations that he murdered a woman in 2001.
"Psycho Joe Scarborough is rattled, not only by his bad ratings but all of the things and facts that are coming out on the internet about opening a Cold Case. He knows what is happening!" Trump tweeted.
There has never been any evidence that Scarborough, a host on MSNBC, had anything to do with the death of Lori Klausutis, who was a staffer in his office when he was a Republican Congressman.
She was found by investigators to have died after hitting her head during a fall, triggered by an abnormal heart rhythm.
However, the rumor has been pushed for years and Trump is its latest, easily highest profile promoter, refusing to stop even after Klausutis' widower made an impassioned appeal to halt the "vicious lie."
"I'm asking you to intervene in this instance because the President of the United States has taken something that does not belong to him -- the memory of my dead wife and perverted it for perceived political gain," he wrote in a letter to Twitter, published Tuesday by The New York Times.
Twitter said in a statement that it was "deeply sorry" about the family's "pain," but did not take any action against Trump's tweets.
For all his protests, Trump is a political giant on social media.
His campaign takes huge pride in its enormous presence on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms that are tied into an unprecedented level of funding and data collection.
Social media also seems to suit Trump's unorthodox communications style -- and his penchant for conspiracy theories, rumors and playground-style insults.
Before being elected in 2016, Trump built his political brand by supporting the "birther" lie that Barack Obama, America's first black president, was not born in the United States and therefore was not eligible to be president.
Now that he faces Obama's vice president Joe Biden as the Democratic challenger in November, Trump is again using Twitter to attack the popular Obama. Trump's claim that the Democrat was part of a "coup" attempt during the early days of his administration has a Twitter hashtag #ObamaGate that the president publishes regularly.
The claim that Twitter is biased against conservatives fits the White House narrative that the billionaire president is still an outsider politician running against the elite.
The row is also a useful smokescreen when Biden is homing in on widespread dissatisfaction with Trump's handling of the pandemic, which has left nearly 100,000 Americans dead. Polls consistently show Biden in a strong position, despite barely having left his own home during weeks of social distancing measures.