News Column

Social media walks fine line

May 20, 2014

Faisal Masudi Staff Reporter

Dubai: Arab youth with huge social media followings have to balance between voicing their opinions and acting responsibly, a panel of young social media personalities told the Arab Media Forum (AMF) in Dubai on Tuesday.

Speaking during the New Media: New Phenomena session, the panellists dismissed any notions that they were "stars" but acknowledged they hold some sway over online readers.

The session explored the rise of social media and new media personalities, particularly among a much younger set of movers and shakers.

Faisal Al Basri, a Kuwaiti satirist and critic of socio-political issues who is prolific on social media, said he weighs his words carefully as many people, including children, closely follow his online activity.

Al Basri has more than 324,000 followers on Instagram alone.

"I don't have political ambitions to be a parliamentarian, my presence on social media's more important... [But] I don't like to be called a star," he said.

With an ability to be sarcastic, Al Basri added he is "almost prohibited to be on Kuwait TV, I don't know the reason why. We don't need state-owned TV".

Al Basri, who owns and runs a publicity and media production company, denied accusations social media personalities can act with impunity.

"We do have red lines. I have many red lines. I don't abuse people. I criticise acts, not people."

He added that in conventional media, those lines were simply "longer".

Saudi blogger Hatoon Kadi said social media activists themselves are targeted.

"You pass through criticism. I got called names and I got immune to those names," Hatoon said.

She added that the "hatred" almost made her stop blogging but after gaining the trust of more than 5,000 followers, she decided to carry on.

Hadoon is the writer and presenter of the YouTube hit comedy series Noon Al Kiswa which, according to one Saudi media review, sees social trends or values from a women's perspective "without judgement".

Another YouTube sensation, Adam Saleh, an American of Yemeni origin, said though there were apparently "no limits" to what can be portrayed through social media, his rule of thumb was to "first show it to my family. If they like it, most probably other people will like it".

He said social media celebrities should be "positive" especially because their work "spreads around the world". Adam said one such example was his involvement in a social media campaign to rally more donors for a charity initiative recently.

Abdul Aziz Al Jasmi, an Emirati with a reputation for using humour on his Instagram handle, said though the secret to being successful with a social media audience was in being "spontaneous and conveying your message indirectly", he had to face "limitations" when tackling social issues on TV.

Session moderator Ola Al Fares, an MBC news presenter, said those limitations in the Arab world were widely acknowledged to be "politics, religion and sex".

Meanwhile, Saudi columnist and blogger Amjad Al Munif questioned labelling someone as "new media personality", explaining that their work should be based on "pillars that all know, there's no consensus on the terminology being used".

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Source: Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)

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