Social networking websites, bridging the gap or widening it?

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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Has our world really changed just because we’ve become more communicative and because we use YouTube, Facebook and Twitter?

We thank those who created these social networking websites. No one doubts that we currently know more about each other than we did five years ago. We know a lot! But, the more we get to know each other, the more worried we should be. What’s interesting is that social networking tools are trains that takes us from one stop to another. Rather, they act as a mirror which reflects our societies.

In the U.S. for example, nine of the most active Twitter users include recording artists like Katy Perry and Justin Bieber. Meanwhile, for us, seven of the most active Twitter users include clerics like Sheikh Arifi and Sheikh al-Ouda!

So, will the cultural map change just because we have 20 million people communicating via Twitter every day? Or will this simply bolster the old situation?

The forum launched by my colleagues at Al Arabiya News was centered on this political, social and technical change. The increase in diversity of media, cultural and technical networking tools gives hope that the people of this disturbed and divided world will have a chance to get to know one another. Numbers do confirm that the world has really changed as it’s witnessing a revolution the likes of which has not been seen since the invention of airplanes, ships and trains. Such inventions altered the world’s demography, as did the invention of televisions and printers which led to the creation of the information society.

Despite that, jumping to the conclusion that Twitter, Facebook and other social networking websites will improve people’s understanding of one another is questionable. There is no solid data that confirms such improvement. Actually, the general conclusion is the opposite! Information has increased, but this has not improved understanding.

We thank those who created these social networking websites. No one doubts that we currently know more about each other than we did five years ago

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

On Twitter, al-Qaeda followers’ tweets are full of threats and pride in displaying the severed heads that the group has cut and tied like a bundle of carrots. Millions of sectarian, religious and racial messages flood Twitter in an unprecedented manner. It’s as if sewage tunnels have flooded the streets. Therefore, we cannot claim that the gap has been bridged since the truth may be the opposite of that.

Don’t shoot the messenger

Despite that, the invention of Twitter is not similar to the invention of gunpowder. It’s closer to a kitchen knife that may be used to prepare a meal or commit a crime. It’s like the satellite dish - a mere copper dish that cannot be blamed for the content delivered to the audience.

The development of social networking websites has landed us in another phase of technological confusion. This case, however, is not the first as during the last two decades, we witnessed a similar situation due to the advent of satellite dishes and the Internet. Our current confusion will thus be cleared up at a later date, much like what happened with the advent of the Internet which transformed into a useful tool we resort to in order to learn about new places and gain access to books we previously had no easy access to.

As we swim across the vast space of the Internet and social networking websites, we might bump into stray meteors or lose our way in black holes. It’s too early to judge. But, it’s not true that these means bridge the gap during this particular phase. On the contrary, they further widen it.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Dec. 3, 2013.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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