All eyes have been on Syria as of late over the government’s suspected use of chemical weapons against its own people. Those who really wanted to know the story, “on the ground,” as they say, weren’t watching the network news or listening to public radio.
They were tuned into social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. Dr. Jabbar Al-Obaidi, professor of communication studies, tells his students this is where they should turn.
“They were amazed,” he said.
Indeed, the Tweets and posts coming out of Syria perhaps give the truest picture of what’s going on in the strife-torn country.
Dr. Al-Obaidi said Syrians are more likely to turn to social media for several reasons. First, there’s general mistrust of the media. Secondly, sharing via social media can be done any time and is relatively easy to do.
“The cell phone is the preferred medium for the people there,” he said. “It’s easy to carry and easy to hide.” Plus it’s up to date.
From the Arab Spring of 2011 through today, social media has played an integral role in telling the rest of the world what goes on, whether it’s from the streets of Egypt, Libya or Syria.
“It’s exploded in the Middle East,” Dr. Al-Obaidi said. “I think it is very true that all of us years ago thought social media was only associated with entertainment. Then we found out it is an intellectual, cultural, educational and informational weapon. A peaceful weapon. This is the new thinking of those peaceful, revolutionary voices in the region. They want to induce change and have an exchange of ideas without violence.”
He added that studies reveal that 55 percent of all social media content is news and information. “This is really a new phase for social media,” Dr. Al-Obaidi said.
Ultimately, he hopes the freedom of expression and dissemination of unfiltered news and information will be the difference maker across the Middle East.
“I’m very hopeful that in the end it will be very helpful,” Professor Al-Obaidi said. “The fear factor has been dismantled. The psychology of fear has been challenged. I think people know they are now in control of their own stream of information and media.”