Young Arabs’ heavy reliance on social media seen as a double-edged sword 

Hundreds of fashionable youngsters are a common sight in posh Cairo districts these days, carrying expensive cameras and trendy clothes in their backpacks -- ready to pose for a photo shoot wherever possible. (AFP/File Photo)
Hundreds of fashionable youngsters are a common sight in posh Cairo districts these days, carrying expensive cameras and trendy clothes in their backpacks -- ready to pose for a photo shoot wherever possible. (AFP/File Photo)
Short Url
Updated 04 December 2021

Young Arabs’ heavy reliance on social media seen as a double-edged sword 

Young Arabs’ heavy reliance on social media seen as a double-edged sword 
  • From social change to extremism, the Arab obsession with social media is regarded as a Catch-22
  • Arab experts weigh the pros and cons of young people’s massive dependence on social media

DUBAI: Social media is no longer a mere secondary method of communication. In recent years, it has become a powerful tool that can influence public opinion and educate and influence the youth — facets demonstrated over the last decade by the impact of networks on major political and social events in the Middle East.

In the early years of the Arab Spring, even before Instagram was as widespread as it is today, activists resorted to Facebook and Twitter to amplify their demands.

During the Beirut blast of Aug. 4, 2020, Lebanese at home and abroad resorted to social media to depict the aftermath of destruction and cry to the world for help, as well as to mobilize their community at home and abroad to assist those in need.

One could argue that the violence that took place in Palestine, the Gaza Strip and Israel in May gained more visibility internationally due to social media. The pleas were heard, the violence was seen and even experienced vicariously thanks to widespread sharing on social networks.

During such events, critical and verified information was shared just as much as news that misinformed and relayed falsified data — the double-edged sword of social networks.

Global social media dependency has continued to rise in recent years, particularly during the coronavirus disease pandemic. According to Hootsuite’s July 2020 report on Global Digital Growth, since COVID-19 there has been a 10 percent increase in digital adoption compared with 12 months earlier. Almost 51 percent of the global population currently uses social media, with a rate of 1 million new users per day, according to Simon Kemp. 

As for the Arab world, the 2021 Arab Barometer report on the digital divide in the region confirmed an increase in internet usage for all countries in the Middle East and North Africa during the pandemic, which Daniella Raz argues in The Arab World’s Digital Divide has fostered “a digital divide that is affected by the economic status of the country and education level of its citizens.”

According to the Arab Youth Survey 2021, 61 percent of Arab youth use social media as a news source, compared with 34 percent who consume news online and 9 percent through newspapers — making social media the number one source of news for young people.

The MENA region’s youth population is increasingly dependent on social media platforms to access information, particularly video and visually driven social networks, says Fares Akkad, director of media partnerships for news in growth markets across Asia Pacific, Latin America, Middle East Africa, and Turkey at Meta.




A man wearing a facemask as a preventative measure against the COVID-19 virus rides a bicycle in front of a mural. (AFP/File Photo)

“This is a trend that has raised its bar overtime and has been boosted especially during the pandemic and it is likely to grow at a larger and faster pace,” he tells Arab News.

“We have seen the strength and scale of the digital world, giving a platform and voice to millions who may otherwise not have it, providing an open and accessible venue through which regular people—can connect, access a plethora of information from politics to lifestyle and fashion.”

During COVID-19 there was a noticeable shift in how the Arab public retrieves information, from traditional media to new media, particularly social media. This led many Arab governments to redefine how they use networking platforms as ways to communicate critical information with their populations.

The World Health Organization also launched its official pages on social media platforms, including WhatsApp — an action that acknowledged how, during the pandemic, social media became a primary source through which official information and data was disseminated.

However, the same Arab Youth Survey conducted in 2019 showed how 80 percent of Arab youth use social media as a source of information, compared with online (61 percent) and newspapers (27 percent).

The drop in using social media as a news source — from 80 percent in 2019 and 79 percent in 2020 to 61 percent in 2021 — highlights the rise in hesitation from using these platforms to get information.

“From most of the surveys I have done it is shown clearly that much of the younger generation today is relying on social media for news,” Jad Melki, associate professor and journalism and media studies director at the Institute of Media Research and Training at the Lebanese American University, told Arab News.

“A lot of the youth don’t follow news to start with — they are more interested in entertainment than following news.”

Reluctance to use the platforms stems from negative attributes — as critical information is shared to the public for the greater good, so too are false rumors and misinformation, which have contributed to a rise in fear and panic among among people. This is true particularly among the youth — many of whom do not yet have the experience to fact-check information or turn to other sources.

A case in point is Facebook whistle-blower Frances Haugen’s testimony before the US Congress in October, where she stated that Facebook’s products “harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy.” She claimed the company should declare “moral bankruptcy” if it is to move forward.

Haugen also accused the company of sowing divisions and fueling ethnic violence, placing — as she said in Washington — “astronomical profits before people.”




A woman looks at the Instagram page of Saudi influencer Ragda Bakhorji, in Dubai on April 7, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

Haugen came forward as the source of a series of revelations in the Wall Street Journal based on internal Facebook (now Meta) documents that revealed the company knew how harmful Instagram was to teenagers’ mental health, and how changes to Facebook’s News Feed feature had also made the platform more divisive among young people.

Haugen’s testimony suggests social media is no longer a secondary method of communication, but a powerful tool that influences public opinion, and there are positives and negatives in its use.

It can educate just as much as it can misinform; bring people and cultures together as well as fuel terrorism and extremism. In many cases, social media is also overtaking mainstream media outlets as the preferred method of choice for how to obtain information.

Akkad affirms that Meta’s house of apps has prioritized making sure “everyone can access credible and accurate information.” He says Meta  removes false claims about vaccines, conspiracy theories, and misinformation that could lead to physical harm.

Currently, Akkad says, Meta removes content that violates its community standards, including more than 20 million pieces of false COVID-19 and vaccine content.

The platform has built a global network of over 80 independent fact-checking partners who rate the accuracy of posts covering more than 60 languages across its apps, with its partners in the Arab region including AFP, Reuters and Fatabyyano. 

It has also displayed warnings on more than 190 million pieces of COVID-related content on Facebook that Meta’s fact-checking partners rated as false, partly false, altered, or missing context. 




Jordanian make-up artist Alaa Bliha, 27, speaks to a journalist in the basement apartment where she lives with her mother and young brother in the capital Amman, on February 2, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)

On the positive side, Meta has helped, says Akkad, over 2 billion people find credible COVID-19 information through its COVID-19 Information Center and News Feed pop-ups.

Yet is this enough to diminish the spread of false information?

Arpi Berberian, a social media manager at Create Media Group in Dubai, believes that to protect Arab youth, or any people at that, social media must be regulated.

While it is the primary source for young people in terms of receiving and processing news, “it should also be up to the receiver to fact check and source check what they read online. Especially when it comes to political news,” she told Arab News. 

“It is hard to generalize across Arab countries given the different political systems, educational levels and cultures,” said Melki.

“Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Iraq or what we call Western Asia, has been the most in turmoil outside Yemen and Libya, and part of that turmoil is related to social media habits and obtaining information.”

Melki says that you can see, as the youth get older and the generation shifts, they become more and more interested in politics and following news. Moreover, as Melki points out, traditional news is now circulating largely online and through social media.

“However, a significant majority still watches television — TV remains king across all demographics, particularly when there is a conflict,” he says.

“We did a survey during the Lebanese protests in 2019 and television was the number one way to receive news followed by social media.”




A picture taken on February 4, 2013 in Riyadh shows a Saudi woman using a tablet computer. (AFP/File Photo)

Melki added that the survey found the same regarding Syrian refugees whether inside or outside of camps — television is the number one way to receive the news.

Can social media dependency in the Arab world be reversed and does it need to be?

“I don’t think it can be reversed. It can be improved though,” says Berberian. “There needs to be guidelines imposed by governments on social media outlets, especially on major outlets that have millions of users of all ages.

“It also doesn’t seem to be a good idea to allow some of the major social media platforms to be run by one entity without any balance. Accountability and the safety of its users needs to be at the forefront of social media’s outlets.”

If social media dependency cannot be reduced in the Arab world, and it has become, as analysts state, one, if not the, primary way for the youth and the general populace to receive critical information, then the way forward is for regulation and education. But then who is to regulate and educate and by what terms?

Especially in nations that lack opportunities for youth available elsewhere, social media becomes a window to the world and one with endless social and business possibilities, and this is the double-edged sword of social media: Its pros and cons can almost be equally weighed.


UK government to cut funding for BBC: Mail on Sunday report

UK government to cut funding for BBC: Mail on Sunday report
Updated 16 January 2022

UK government to cut funding for BBC: Mail on Sunday report

UK government to cut funding for BBC: Mail on Sunday report
  • Freezing license cost at its current £159 would provide some relief to consumers battling rising costs of living
  • But it would also be a large blow to the BBC’s finances as it tries to compete with privately funded news outlets

LONDON: Britain’s government will cut the BBC’s funding by ordering a two-year freeze on the fee that people pay to watch the broadcaster, the Mail on Sunday reported.
The future of the license-payer funded British Broadcasting Corporation is a perpetual topic of political debate, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government most recently suggesting its funding needs to be reformed.
Set against an inflation rate expected to reach a 30-year high of 6 percent or more in April, freezing the license cost at its current 159 pounds ($217.40) would provide some relief to consumers battling sharply rising costs of living.
But it would also be a large blow to the BBC’s finances as it tries to compete with privately funded news outlets and the likes of Netflix and other entertainment streaming services funded by consumer subscriptions.
In November, the government launched negotiations to agree how much the TV license would cost, part of a five year funding settlement due to begin in April 2022.
The Digital, Media, Culture and Sport department declined to comment when asked about the Mail on Sunday report.
Culture secretary Nadine Dorries said that the license fee settlement would be the last such agreement and tweeted a link to the Mail on Sunday article.
“Time now to discuss and debate new ways of funding, supporting and selling great British content,” she said on Twitter.
The BBC declined to comment on Dorries’ tweet or the Mail on Sunday report.
The opposition Labour Party said the funding cut was politically motivated.
“The Prime Minister and the Culture Secretary seem hell-bent on attacking this great British institution because they don’t like its journalism,” said Lucy Powell, Labour lawmaker and culture policy chief.
The BBC’s news output is regularly criticized by UK political parties. Its coverage of Brexit issues — central to Johnson’s government — has long been seen as overly critical by supporters of leaving the European Union.
Last week, one Conservative lawmaker said BBC coverage relating to parties in Johnson’s Downing Street residence during coronavirus lockdowns amounted to a “coup attempt” against the prime minister.


Sudan revokes license of Al Jazeera Mubasher citing unprofessional coverage

Al Jazeera has given prominent coverage to the demonstrations and late last year also aired an interview with Burhan. (File)
Al Jazeera has given prominent coverage to the demonstrations and late last year also aired an interview with Burhan. (File)
Updated 16 January 2022

Sudan revokes license of Al Jazeera Mubasher citing unprofessional coverage

Al Jazeera has given prominent coverage to the demonstrations and late last year also aired an interview with Burhan. (File)
  • Sudan has been gripped by political turmoil since top military leader General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan launched a coup on October 25

KHARTOUM: Sudan has revoked the license of Al Jazeera Mubasher, part of the Qatar-based network, accusing it of “unprofessional” TV coverage of anti-coup protests, the channel said Sunday.
“The Sudanese authorities announce they revoked the accreditation of Al Jazeera Mubasher and barred its team from working in Sudan,” tweeted the news channel.
Sudan has been gripped by political turmoil since top military leader General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan launched a coup on October 25.
The military power grab triggered mass protests by pro-democracy movements demanding civilian rule that has met with a deadly crackdown.
At least 64 protesters have been killed, according to pro-democracy medics, and a police officer has also lost his life.
Al Jazeera has given prominent coverage to the demonstrations and late last year also aired an interview with Burhan.
In November, days after the interview, it said that its Khartoum bureau chief Al-Musalami Al-Kabbashi had been arrested at his home.
Kabbashi was released three days later with no official charges announced against him.
The editor-in-chief of the armed forces newspaper Ibrahim Al-Hory later accused Kabbashi of publishing “false” information and of airing “old video footage... that instigated strife” in the country.
Burhan declared a state of emergency on October 25, ousted the government and detained the civilian leadership.
Prime Minister Abdulla Hamdok was placed under house arrest but later reinstated in a deal with the military.
Hamdok then resigned on January 2 warning that Sudan was at a dangerous crossroads threatening its very “survival.”
Burhan has insisted the military’s move “was not a coup” but a push to “rectify the course of the transition.”


DirecTV drops Trump-friendly One America News

Subscription television service DirecTV has decided not to renew its contract with One America News Network (OAN), an ultra-conservative, conspiratorial US channel that backs former US president Donald Trump. (Drew Angerer/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP)
Subscription television service DirecTV has decided not to renew its contract with One America News Network (OAN), an ultra-conservative, conspiratorial US channel that backs former US president Donald Trump. (Drew Angerer/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP)
Updated 16 January 2022

DirecTV drops Trump-friendly One America News

Subscription television service DirecTV has decided not to renew its contract with One America News Network (OAN), an ultra-conservative, conspiratorial US channel that backs former US president Donald Trump. (Drew Angerer/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP)
  • The right-wing TV channel has been friendly to Donald Trump and widely criticized for spreading misinformation including the former president’s false claim that he won the 2020 election

BOSTON: DirecTV plans to drop One America News Network, significantly shrinking the reach of the right-wing TV channel friendly to Donald Trump and widely criticized for spreading misinformation including the former president’s false claim that he won the 2020 election.
The satellite television provider said Saturday that it has informed OAN’s owner, Herring Networks. Inc., that it will no longer carry its two channels when their contract expires. The other, AWA, is a lifestyle channel. The decision is believed to remove OAN from millions of homes.
“We informed Herring Networks that, following a routine internal review, we do not plan to enter into a new contract when our current agreement expires,” a DirecTV spokesman said in an emailed statement.
The spokesman would not say when the contract expires, but Bloomberg News, which first reported development on Friday, said it expires in early April.
San Diego-based Herring Networks did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Bloomberg said DirecTV is OAN’s largest distributor. On its website, Herring says OAN is carried by Verizon FiOS and several smaller TV providers. It can also be streamed online. Major cable companies including Comcast and Charter do not carry OAN.
AT&T has a 70 percent stake in DirecTV, which has carried OAN since April 2017 after AT&T settled a lawsuit demanding it carry the channels. Herring Networks had claimed AT&T reneged on an agreement to carry OAN on DirecTV, which it acquired in 2015.
OAN became a darling of Trump during his presidency and has continued to report his claim that the 2020 presidential election was rigged against him – a claim directly contradicted by the facts and exhaustive reporting. It has carried Trump live in post-presidency appearances, its reporters declining to challenge his contrafactual claims.
Trump came to OAN’s defense at a rally Saturday night in Arizona, praising the network — “I love One America News,” he said — and threatening to call for a boycott of DirecTV’s parent company, AT&T.
“This is horrible,” Trump said. “This is a great network. These are great people. I watch it all the time and you really get the truth. And they want to cancel them now because of politics — for purely political reasons. It’s a disgrace what’s going on.”
He added, “But I don’t think that people are gonna stand for it” and, noting the company’s founders were in the crowd, said, “Maybe what we should do is not use AT&T.”
Dominion Voting Systems sued OAN and other right-wing broadcasters in August, claiming they damaged the election technology company’s business by trumpeting lies spread by Trump adherents that it was complicit in an election-rigging conspiracy.
DirecTV does not provide a breakdown of its subscribers, but AT&T reported that as of the second quarter of 2021 it had a total of 15.4 million paid premium TV subscribers including DirecTV, AT&T U-verse wireline video and the online service AT&T TV.
The paid TV market has been steadily shrinking as more people abandon it for streaming services.


Twitter suspends account linked to Iranian supreme leader after Trump video post

The video, posted Wednesday on the website of Khamenei’s office, appears to show Trump, on the golf course at his Mar-a-Lago, Florida. (Screenshot)
The video, posted Wednesday on the website of Khamenei’s office, appears to show Trump, on the golf course at his Mar-a-Lago, Florida. (Screenshot)
Updated 15 January 2022

Twitter suspends account linked to Iranian supreme leader after Trump video post

The video, posted Wednesday on the website of Khamenei’s office, appears to show Trump, on the golf course at his Mar-a-Lago, Florida. (Screenshot)
  • The video showed the Trump-like figure being targeted by a robot under the shadow of a large drone on a golf course

LONDON: A Twitter account linked to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was suspended on Saturday, days after it carried a video depicting the hypothetical assassination of former US President Donald Trump.

The animation, which shows a golfer resembling Trump being targeted in a drone strike, was also posted on Khamenei’s official website, where it was described as the “winning animation from the people in the ‘Hero’ contest conducted by Khamenei.ir on the topic of revenge on Trump, (former US Secretary of State Mike) Pompeo and the murderers of Gen. Soleimani.”

It was tweeted from the Persian-language account with the text: “Revenge is definite.”

The video showed the Trump-like figure being targeted by a robot under the shadow of a large drone on a golf course.

“The account referenced has been permanently suspended for violating our ban evasion policy,” a Twitter spokesperson told AFP.

According to Twitter, the company's top priority is keeping people safe and protecting the health of the conversation on the platform.

The social media giant says it has clear policies around abusive behavior and will take action when violations are identified.

Khamenei and other top Iranian officials have continually vowed retaliation for the killing of Qasem Soleimani, the former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force who was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad in January, 2020.

A similar account linked to Khamenei was blocked by Twitter last year for sharing a similar image — with a golfer resembling Trump carrying the words: “Vengeance is inevitable.”

* With AFP


US anti-trust suit says Google, Facebook chiefs approved ‘illegal’ market pact

US anti-trust suit says Google, Facebook chiefs approved ‘illegal’ market pact
Updated 15 January 2022

US anti-trust suit says Google, Facebook chiefs approved ‘illegal’ market pact

US anti-trust suit says Google, Facebook chiefs approved ‘illegal’ market pact
  • The antitrust suit is one of three engaging Google on different fronts
  • Suit says the online search colossus sought to oust competition by manipulating ad auctions

SAN FRANCISCO, US: Top bosses of Google and Facebook were directly involved in approving an allegedly illegal 2018 deal to cement their dominance of the online advertising market, US court documents revealed Friday.
The records, part of an anti-trust lawsuit by a coalition of US states targeting Google, make serious allegations against Big Tech giants long accused of holding monopolies.
According to the states’ accusations, the online search colossus sought to oust competition by manipulating ad auctions — the ultra-sophisticated system that determines which ads appear on web pages based on the anonymized profiles of Internet users.
The legal documents filed in a New York court clearly refer to Sundar Pichai, chief of Google’s parent firm Alphabet, as well as Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg and CEO Mark Zuckerberg — even if their names were redacted.
“Google CEO Sundar Pichai also personally signed off on the terms of the deal,” the suit said.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai. (AP file photo)


The documents note that the economic terms were emailed to Facebook’s CEO and he was advised: “’We’re nearly ready to sign and need your approval to move forward.’“
Google did not respond to a request for comment Friday, but has adamantly denied manipulating the digital ad market.
It was the third time the suit was amended, and did not list Facebook or its parent company Meta as defendants.
“Meta’s non-exclusive bidding agreement with Google and the similar agreements we have with other bidding platforms, have helped to increase competition for ad placements,” a spokesperson said in reply to an AFP inquiry.
“These business relationships enable Meta to deliver more value to advertisers while fairly compensating publishers, resulting in better outcomes for all.”
Google referred to the agreement internally as “Jedi Blue,” the color being a reference to Facebook’s logo, according to the filing.
“No rational developer would choose to have its auctions rigged by the market’s two largest buyers,” the suit said.
“So, Google and Facebook swore themselves to secrecy about the terms of their agreement.”
The antitrust suit is one of three engaging Google on different fronts.
The US government filed its blockbuster lawsuit in October of last year, accusing Google of maintaining an “illegal monopoly” in online search and advertising.
The country’s biggest antitrust case in decades, it opens the door to a potential breakup of the Silicon Valley titan.
While Google ad revenue has continued to grow, its share of the booming US online ad market is ebbing under pressure from competitors such as Facebook, Amazon and others, according to eMarketer.