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Khalid Al Ameri: Social Media: Where you are one tweet away from fame or disaster
July 05, 2015
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

I have said it once and I will say it again, I love social media. I love how it connects us in ways we never thought possible. I love how it’s breaking down down social barriers and creating a stronger sense of engagement between governments and people. I love how it has given entrepreneurs and creatives incredible platforms to share their products, services, and talents with the world.

Most of all I love how it has given a sense of freedom and opportunity to anyone with access to a smartphone, you are always just a tweet, pic, or video away from internet fame. Today an actor or comedian doesn’t need to wait to get discovered to start acting, there’s YouTube. An artist doesn’t need to wait to get accepted into a gallery to display his art, there’s Instagram or Pinterest. A journalist doesn’t need a traditional newspaper to share his articles and stories with the world, there’s Twitter. The list goes on and on.

There is however one cultural element of social media that has started to come up recently, and that is power. The words “You are the few, we are the many” which were said by the High Sparrow from Game of Thrones as he was being threatened by Olenna of House Tyrell go far in describing the dynamics of power in social media today. The power is in the numbers, the number of followers, the number of retweets, the number of shares. In many cases this online power has done good for the many in the name of democracy, bringing down dictators, and giving voices to the voiceless.

Today however I am concerned about the more common, day to day element this newfound power or influence is having on us as a society. The theme of messages, videos, or documents going viral on social media that exposes an individual (usually someone who holds significant power) is becoming all too common.

A recent example is of a Saudi minister who was caught on video, which went viral on social media, having a heated argument with another citizen, in which he was shouting and making angry gestures. This led to him being removed from his position. Earlier this year an Egyptian actress was videotaped in a mall by several UAE women arguing that she was dressed inappropriately, this was also uploaded on social media, where again the online community took over spreading the issue even further. Other issues include videotaping public employees losing their cool, fights in public, or other personally embarrassing situations.

Now I want to state that I am all for the accountability that has come with social media. I think it’s phenomenal, and was very much needed in a region that maintains several unnecessary hierarchies. Today anyone with a mobile device and access to social media is an investigator and could potentially lead to big issues for individuals and organisations that are not doing their work or mistreating others. Previously all those issues would have gone unnoticed or simply swept under the rug.

So why I am somewhat concerned? It’s because now we all have to be perfect, if you are in the public sphere you can’t make one mistake. If you are having a bad day and get into a bad interaction that is caught on tape the online world takes over, and whatever voice you did have will be drowned in the opinions and conclusions made by others, whether they are true or false.

Think about it, you could be a good person at heart, every day you are kind to people, your work is honest and helps others, then one day someone bumps into you in public, insults you personally, and you lose your temper and start arguing with them. Someone, somewhere, will be recording it, it gets uploaded, and based on that one interaction you are now in the eyes of many an angry individual, your family is embarrassed along with you, and given your status you could lose friends, fans, and even your job.

The problem is the online world is so quick to judge, and I have found myself guilty of that so many times. I see a negative video or an article about someone and I quickly jump to a conclusion about that person’s entire life and personality. Many times I slow myself down and remind myself that this is one isolated incident, and until someone shows me that this is who they are I have no reason to think that way.

Did senior government officials caught on video act out of order when dealing with individuals? Absolutely, at the end of the day if you are a high status public servant you have to rise above insults and always engage in a professional manner. Furthermore their role is to serve citizens of the country, and citizens have a right to demand the best from them.

However are those incidents proof of how they act every day? Maybe, maybe not, when I read the article or view the video I have no evidence of that being the case, however given the subsequent removals of the officials I assume there had been a stream of negative issues. I just find it strange that there isn’t a theme of public apologies similar to officials in the West when they have made a mistake or had a situation that reflects them negatively go public. There doesn’t seem to be an opportunity to right the wrongs, but that is a whole other topic.

I guess what I am trying to say is we all think this trend of catching people and officials in negative situations is a good thing, and it is, but then again we have never been on the receiving end of an online tidal wave of abuse. Usually we are the ones doing the retweeting, and giving our opinions on how terrible the person is like we’ve known them all our lives.

Maybe we should withhold judgement until we get all the facts, because I know that is what I would be asking for if I made a mistake, and we all make mistakes, I just don’t know how accommodating we are when people do. I say this because I want you all to be successful, famous, wealthy, or whatever it is that makes you happy, but I would hate to see it all go to waste due to one isolated error in judgement. By all means share the news, discuss the situation, but let’s not call someone a bad person when maybe all they are having is a bad day.

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The author is a columnist on education and youth development.

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