GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Why Social Media has not and Cannot Foster Political Change in The Gulf
Paper Proposal Text :
When Dr Martin Luther King Jr and his followers called for a million man march to protest against racial segregation and demand equal civil rights in the United States, all they had at their disposal was what at the time was the newest and most modern form of communication- printed leaflets . In the modern age we use social media to share our messages; in the age of Dr. King, and civil rights activists, social networks were used to share messages. The million man march attracted 250,000 people from across the United States, fast forward to 2011 and once again we find tens of thousands protesting for their civil rights, this time across the Middle East and North Africa, where the world witnessed the birth of the “Arab Spring” across the region.
The role of social media in political discourse in the Gulf region has been widely reported on across the media and by academics in a vast array of studies highlighting the evolution of internet consumption in the GCC and the wider Middle East.
According to the Dubai School of Government 2013 Arab Social Media Report, the highest Twitter penetration in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, at 7.6% and 6.48% respectively . Comparing that to the global North where for example the Netherlands which has the highest penetration globally at 26.8% according to Comscore , and the percentage of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia might seem insignificant in comparison. It is not to say that social media is not an important tool in the GCC, but it is important to not over credit social media as the driver of political or social reform. All data indicates that the rapid growth of social media in the GCC is driven by those aged 15-294, an important figure considering that 53% of the population in the region are under 25 . However, this is the age group most disengaged in political discourse and least likely to drive actual political policy and legislation

Legal, Social and Cultural Barriers
A recent paper presented at the Emirates Strategic Planning Association annual conference suggested that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) should set up an independent authority to address false and fraudulent information concerning the UAE on social media . What falls into the domain of “false and fraudulent” information was not made clear. And here is where the obstacle to social media as an effective political tool becomes clear. In fact all the GCC countries have over the last few years amended and tightened their respective Media Laws, adding “electronic media” to long standing mainstream media laws, specifically to target website deemed damaging to security and public order . Furthermore, all GCC countries have in place laws that make defamation charges criminal rather than civil.

Critics of social media as driver of political change have suggested that social media attracts those that are the vocal minority rather than the mainstream majority. This criticism is made with a great emphasis on the socio-economic and educational divide between the rich and poor being a significant determiner on who can access the technology, thus reflecting the outlook and voice of a fraction of the population .
While social media has no doubt played a significant role in anti-government movements and politics in parts of the GCC, such as Bahrain where online forums and blogs have been utilized extensively for nearly a decade , social media as a sole tool cannot put the concept of democracy into practice.