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)
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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.


Facebook parent Meta creates powerful AI supercomputer

Facebook employees take a photo with the company's new name and logo outside its headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., Oct. 28, 2021. (AP)
Facebook employees take a photo with the company's new name and logo outside its headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., Oct. 28, 2021. (AP)
Updated 25 January 2022

Facebook parent Meta creates powerful AI supercomputer

Facebook employees take a photo with the company's new name and logo outside its headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., Oct. 28, 2021. (AP)
  • The computer, which is already up and running but is still being built, is called AI Research SuperCluster

MENLO PARK, California: Facebook’s parent company Meta on Monday said it has created what it believes is among the fastest artificial intelligence supercomputers running today.
The social media giant said it hopes the machine will help lay the groundwork for its building of the metaverse, a virtual reality construct intended to supplant the Internet as we know it today.
Facebook said it believes the computer will be the fastest in the world once it is fully built around the middle of the year.
Supercomputers are extremely fast and powerful machines built to do complex calculations not possible with a regular home computer. Meta did not disclose where the computer is located or how much it is costing to build.
The computer, which is already up and running but is still being built, is called AI Research SuperCluster. Meta says it will help its AI researchers build “new and better” artificial intelligence models that can learn from “trillions” of examples and work across hundreds of different languages simultaneously and analyze text, images and video together.
The way Meta is defining the power of its computer is different from how conventional and more technically powerful supercomputers are measured because it relies on the performance of graphics-processing chips, which are useful for running “deep learning” algorithms that can understand what’s in an image, analyze text and translate between languages, said Tuomas Sandholm, a computer science professor and co-director of the AI center at Carnegie Mellon University.
“We hope RSC will help us build entirely new AI systems that can, for example, power real-time voice translations to large groups of people, each speaking a different language, so they can seamlessly collaborate on a research project or play an AR game together,” Meta said in a blog post.
The company said its supercomputer will incorporate “real-world examples” from its own systems into training its AI. It says its previous efforts used only open-source and other publicly available data sets.
“They are going to, for the first time, put their customer data on their AI research computer,” Sandholm said. “That would be a really big change to give AI researchers and algorithms access to all that data.”


Biden caught insulting Fox News journalist

Biden caught insulting Fox News journalist
Updated 25 January 2022

Biden caught insulting Fox News journalist

Biden caught insulting Fox News journalist

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden was caught on a live microphone Monday calling a Fox News journalist a “stupid son of a bitch” on the sidelines of a White House photo op.
As journalists were leaving the room after the event, a reporter from Fox News, the favorite channel of conservatives, asked whether inflation is a political liability.
The Democratic leader, possibly unaware that his microphone was still on, began by deadpanning: “It’s a great asset. More inflation.”
And then muttered, “What a stupid son of a bitch,” before glancing briefly down.
A pool reporter who was in the room at the time admitted to not being able to hear what Biden actually said over the noise.
But he added that he would “direct your attention to video of the event if you are curious how the president really feels about being asked about inflation from Fox’s Peter Doocy.”
Doocy shrugged the insult off in a later interview on Fox.
“Yeah nobody has fact-checked him yet and said it’s not true,” he said, nonchalantly.


Meta to integrate WhatsApp with Workplace

Meta to integrate WhatsApp with Workplace
Updated 24 January 2022

Meta to integrate WhatsApp with Workplace

Meta to integrate WhatsApp with Workplace
  • Update aims to ease communication between businesses, front-line workers

DUBAI: Meta will launch the integration of WhatsApp with its Workplace platform, with the aim of easing communication between business and employee, especially front-line workers.

The new update, which will release later this year, will allow companies to share posts from Workplace over WhatsApp. The announcement comes on the back of a research report, “Deskless Not Voiceless,” which surveyed 7,000 front-line workers and 1,350 C-suite executives in seven countries.

An overwhelming 94 percent of C-suite executives said that they need to start prioritizing front-line tech in the way that they have historically prioritized office and desk-based technology.

Almost half (45 percent) of front-line workers said that they feel disconnected from their company’s headquarters. Moreover, 75 percent do not completely trust their employers to be transparent about company news and updates.

“At Workplace, we strongly believe that the most successful organizations empower their front-line employees to make a difference and listen to their ideas. So it’s disappointing to see there’s still a clear disconnect between the front line and HQ in 2021,” said Ujjwal Singh, Workplace head of product.

“Our integration with WhatsApp is designed to help fix that,” he added.

Virgin Atlantic and AstraZeneca both use Workplace to stay connected with employees.

“Our front-line teams — whether on the ground or in the skies — are constantly on the move; Workplace allows them to remain connected to Virgin Atlantic, wherever they are in the world and whenever suits them,” said Shai Weiss, CEO of Virgin Atlantic.

AstraZeneca started using Workplace as a test for its global manufacturing and supply teams in 2017 and rolled it out across the entire company by 2018. Today, 70,000 employees in 10 countries use the platform as a way to stay in touch and share ideas.

For example, the company held an event on Workplace, which saw employees submit 56,000 ideas in two weeks, and another event designed to understand lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in 24,000 ideas being shared.

“Workplace has been key to AstraZeneca’s high employee engagement rates by helping us drive tangible change and adjust to the changing nature of how we all work,” said Alun Metford, head of internal communications at AstraZeneca.

“It will play a central role as we adjust to the next normal,” he added.


BBC Arabic accused of withholding guest pay for 2 years

BBC Arabic was also embroiled in another controversy last year. (Screenshot)
BBC Arabic was also embroiled in another controversy last year. (Screenshot)
Updated 23 January 2022

BBC Arabic accused of withholding guest pay for 2 years

BBC Arabic was also embroiled in another controversy last year. (Screenshot)
  • “The important matter I want to discuss now is that BBC Arabic hasn’t paid us any dues for two years,” Political analyst Mehdi Eliefifi said

LONDON: BBC Arabic was accused last week of not paying its contributors for two years after one of its guests cut a live interview to raise the issue.

Political analyst Mehdi Eliefifi was invited to speak on a BBC Arabic newscast about the Russian-Ukrainian conflict when he cut his commentary in order to raise the failed payments issue.

“The important matter I want to discuss now is that BBC Arabic hasn’t paid us any dues for two years,” he said, in reference to analysts appearing on the channel’s program.

He then held a piece of paper in front of the camera, on which the names of the channel’s officials were written in English and Arabic, as well as the question “where are my financial dues that haven’t been paid for two years?”

BBC Arabic issued a statement to Arab News and on Twitter, saying: “To clarify the issue of the symbolic payments owed to some of the BBC’s guests, we conducted further investigations and we are aware of a technical defect in the payment mechanism within the institution, which led to the delay in the dues of some guests.

“Therefore, we apologize for the delay to all those affected by this matter and assure that we are working hard to solve this case as soon as possible.”

The BBC’s English-language service declined to comment on the matter while it “looked into the technical issue.”

BBC Arabic was also embroiled in another controversy last year, when an investigation by The Jewish Chronicle titled “Shame of BBC Arabic as systematic bias revealed,” highlighted the Arabic-language news channel’s consistent use of antisemitic and “Hamas-inspired language.”

However, a BBC spokesperson strongly rejected claims of compromised impartiality and said: “BBC Arabic shares exactly the same principles of accuracy and impartiality as BBC News in English.”


Turkish court orders imprisonment of journalist Sadaf Kabas for ‘insulting’ Erdogan

Kabas, who was taken into custody as part of an investigation launched against her on the charge of insulting the President, was referred to the court for processing. (Anadolu)
Kabas, who was taken into custody as part of an investigation launched against her on the charge of insulting the President, was referred to the court for processing. (Anadolu)
Updated 23 January 2022

Turkish court orders imprisonment of journalist Sadaf Kabas for ‘insulting’ Erdogan

Kabas, who was taken into custody as part of an investigation launched against her on the charge of insulting the President, was referred to the court for processing. (Anadolu)
  • The law on insulting the president carries a jail sentence of between one and four years

ANKARA: A Turkish court on Saturday ordered well-known journalist Sedef Kabas to be jailed pending trial on a charge of insulting President Tayyip Erdogan, CNN Turk said, targeting her with a law under which tens of thousands have been prosecuted.

Police detained Kabas at around 2 a.m. (2300 GMT) and took her first to Istanbul's main police station before transferring her to the city's main courthouse, where a court subsequently ruled in favour of her formal arrest, the broadcaster said.

The alleged insult was in the form of a palace-related proverb that Kabas expressed both on an opposition television channel and on her Twitter account, drawing condemnation from government officials.

"The honor of the presidency's office is the honor of our country... I condemn the vulgar insults made against our president and his office," Fahrettin Altun, head of Turkey's Communications Directorate, wrote on Twitter.

Merdan Yanardag, chief editor of the Tele 1 channel on which Kabas made the comment, sharply criticised her arrest.

"Her detention overnight at 2 a.m. because of a proverb is unacceptable," he wrote on Twitter. "This stance is an attempt to intimidate journalists, the media and society."

The law on insulting the president carries a jail sentence of between one and four years.

Last October, Europe's top human rights court called on Turkey to change the legislation after ruling that a man's detention under the law violated his freedom of expression.

Thousands have been charged and sentenced over the crime of insulting Erdogan in the seven years since he moved from being prime minister to president.

In 2020, 31,297 investigation were launched in relation to the charge, 7,790 cases were filed and 3,325 resulted in convictions, according to Justice Ministry data. Those numbers were slightly lower than the previous year.

Since 2014, the year Erdogan became president, 160,169 investigations were launched over insulting the president, 35,507 cases were filed and there were 12,881 convictions.