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Social media’s cultural awakening for young Arabs in 2014

2014 bore witness to a cultural revolution fueled by entrepreneurs, start-ups, personalities and brands

Yara al-Wazir

Published: Updated:

When young Arabs used social media as a medium for citizen journalism in recent years, they were praised, and rightly so. While around the world social media is being used to Instagram photographs of food and selfies, young Arabs in the region deserve more praise for their resilient use of social media also for social change.

2014 bore witness to a cultural revolution fueled by entrepreneurs, start-ups, personalities and brands creating social awareness and economic development through an extremely simple tool.

Entrepreneurial spirits find a medium

As investments slowed and the cost of start-ups rose faster than the cost of property in the region, entrepreneurs turned to social media to develop their brands. From Egypt’s fast-food website "Engezni," to personalities-turned-entrepreneurs such as Huda Al-Kattan, a makeup entrepreneur who heavily relies on social media to promote her products, social media has been a breeding ground for startups.

Bending cultural codes, and finding a voice

When social media first experienced its boom in the region back in 2011/12, the principle behind the success of any given account mainly revolved around the statement that user made. In many respects, this gave an opportunity for backlash. This was particularly made evident by the #womentodrive campaign in Saudi Arabia where women posted photographs and videos of themselves driving cars.

2014 bore witness to a cultural revolution fueled by entrepreneurs, start-ups, personalities and brands

Yara al-Wazir

In 2014, movements relied on a different method to deliver their statements, that is to deliver them as “matter-of-fact messages.” In my opinion, this helped bend cultural norms and create fuss-free social change.

This was evident in Kuwait, where Equait, a civil society NGO that heavily relies on social media to convey its message of social equality, provides a forum for discussion. This method of delivery skips the debate of whether or not a particular socio-political issue exists, and discusses how to solve it instead, saving everyone time, but more importantly, broadening thought horizons.

Improved political awareness

When it comes to general international political awareness of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and public attitudes towards the issue, 2014 definitely saw a shift. Even the West saw calls for the recognition of the Palestinian State. Again, this was largely due to the use of hashtags that inform the public of campaigns and on-the-ground experiences, particularly throughout the 50-day Gaza war during the summer months.

Likewise, hashtags in solidarity with tragic events also lead to greater political awareness and understanding within the Middle East; from a hashtag supporting Moath Alkassassbeh, the Jordanian pilot who was recently captured by ISIS, to the #IWillRideWithYou, in support of Muslims in Australia after the fatal siege of a Sydney café.

Unison wins in 2014

Ultimately, this year has shown that social media can be used to create positive change in the community through economic, cultural, and political channels. Messages that call for unison have worked.

However, 2014 wasn’t the greatest year in terms of convictions in the region due to posts on social media. What 2015 needs is greater freedom of expression on these platforms. Arguably, not everyone will want to deliver their message in the same way, but as long as the messages are being delivered with no intention of harm, then those posting must feel safe and free to express what they wish.

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Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.