Social media shifts power of communication to people
With the rapid spread of social media, the power of communication is in the hands of the people, not governments, said speakers at the first day of the International Government Communication Forum yesterday.
Discussing the role of social media in communication between governments and their citizens, Jon Duschinsky, Founder and CEO of The Conversation Farm, highlighted the change in power.
“For decades, governments used the method of messaging people what to do, how to behave, how to live. Now governments have to change their conversation and empower citizens to change their behaviour by digging into what really interests them,” he said.
Through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, governments are able to listen to the people’s needs through the millions of conversations taking place online, said Duschinsky.
“Social media belongs beyond borders and is a community that is not limited by geography or language,” he said.
Referring to the series of revolutions in the Arab World, Duschinsky pointed out that the Arab Spring was inevitable. The Arab Spring would have happened regardless of social media, as people’s views and feelings about the different regimes were long-standing, he explained.
“What Facebook and Twitter did is that it gave people a platform to communicate with people who are not necessarily sitting around their dinner table.”
Fadi Salem, Director of the Government and Innovation Programme, said communication is no longer vertical, between the government and its citizens, nor is it horizontal, between citizens; it is now based on a network.
He said many governments view social media as a risk and find it difficult to accept the culture of citizen opinion and its role in the decision-making process.
“There are 65 million active users of social media in the Arab world, and 70 per cent of them are under the age of 30,” he said, pointing out that the channels of communication were hierarchal and government-controlled before the advent of social media.
Salem said the huge number of active users of social media in the UAE has created a platform for a new type of communication.
Dr Sulaiman Al Hattlan, Founder and CEO of Al Hattlan Media, shared his views, adding that social media has exposed a wide spectrum of the society’s concerns, demands and needs of the society.
“Governments no longer have a choice but to interact in one way or another, with social media,” he said.
Looking at the opposite side of the spectrum, Dr Parween Habib, a mediaman with the Dubai Media Corporation, highlighted the insignificance of social media to “the intellectual”.
“The intellectual does not use social media, it kills creativity,” he said, explaining that while social media allows people to follow up on pop culture and pay close attention to trivial matters, the intellectual distances himself from such platforms.
“Social media cuts our leisure time, thinking time, and times when we are bored.” She said that times of boredom are essential in the brain’s creativity process. “Social media pushes everyone to a fast forward mode where a user becomes a virtual reader,” she said. “It is the death of reading.”
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