Social Media’s Battle of Empowerment by J.A.Z.

As always I started my daily routine by looking through different online newspapers as my attention got caught up by one of Jennifer Preston’s work.

According to the paper, she is a New York Times reporter who is among other things covering the intersection of social media, politics and therefore real nowadays life.

The headline stands for itself and yet it leaves one thinking how diverse the usage and the change of social media can occur.

Seeking to Disrupt Protesters, Syria Cracks Down on Social Media”. A phrase one might interpret as underlying statement?

The assumption seems almost proven by reviewing trust worthy reports, claiming social media is a leading contributor in the societal and political transformation that have swept the Arab region.

 According to the Arab Social Media Report, studies have shown that throughout 2011, the social media usage continued to grow significantly across the Arab world. From barely being used as a tool for social networking and entertainment, social media is now starting to get a part of almost every aspect of the daily lives of millions of Arabs.

On a global perspective, when it comes down to “daily life”, relating to the diversity of social media usage, young Arabs apparently seem to declare the definition from the western worlds perspective, as usage that has to come second. While their definition, seems to be on one level with aspects of doing business, interact with government or engage civil society movements. 

Especially with the increasing mass of Arabs, interacting with political difficulties, the fact that a tremendous mass of users get involved, the governments have also begun to recognize social media’s potential to imply a wide range of people and therefor develop more transparent, governance models.

But as positive as this might sounds, from a creative and socially beneficial perspective, according to a media report from 2010, this change also brought newfound concerns surrounding issues of security, privacy and freedom of expression. 

Regarding all these aspects it shows once again, that politics is and always will be a concern with own responsibilities.

Refraining from the political controversy there is an existing part, which shows a pure but yet unsteady improvement.

One should not forget, that coming across this transformation, many stereotypes have been shattered and in this connection mostly the Arab women in particular have become more and more engaged on political and civic actions. The societal and political change plays an instrumental role in demanding stereotypes about Arab women as oppressed and subservient. In particular, the leading role, that women have played, participating social movements in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen has intensified their position as equal partners to men.

At this point the most obvious acknowledgment on a global perspective was without doubt the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to an Arab woman, Tawakkul Karman, a leading female Yemeni and political activist.

And to name one example, showing social media is being utilized to create change within communities and countries, the “Women2Drive” campaign definitely stands out. 

It was launched in May 2011, calling for women’s right to drive in Saudi Arabia. It took months until the women driving campaign began on a national level and all this happened by making sure of an online presence that everyone has access to. 

But even stepping up to this level of improvement, there is still an enormous amount of work left, when it comes to really create opportunities in real life. While “virtual” participation might be a first step towards women’s empowerment, it may not necessarily translate into real-life participation in mainstream, political, civic and public arenas. A lot of women participate virtual organizations because they do feel save by staying anonymous, since the society is constantly harder on female activists.

Going back to a social media report, a studies result shows that it is promising, however, that a majority of male and female respondents perceive social media as an provider for women’s empowerment. This, most certainly can be held as example of social media being used as some sort of spokesman, working with a suppressed group of individuals that is in need of global attention.

Continuing my habit, I once again got caught by the New York Times. As for this time it is the papers “Foreign Affairs” columnist Thomas L. Friedman and while he is mentioning a book about George Mitchell’s diplomatic work in Northern Ireland, which is entitled “To Hell with the Future, Let’s get on with the past” at this point, it leaves the both of us hoping, such book will never be written about today’s Arab awakenings.

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