Voices from the Arab press: Regulate social media before it’s too late | #socialmedia


REGULATE SOCIAL MEDIA ADVERTISING BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE

Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, June 17

A few days ago, 14 Saudi residents were detained after promoting and launching a cosmetic product through social media. The financial penalties imposed upon the group exceeded three million riyals [$800,000]. However, I believe that the financial penalties are not enough to deter them. The large sums of money that celebrities receive from social media advertising are sufficient to easily cover these fines. Therefore, penalties must be escalated in order to deter influencers from informally advertising products on social media. 

Yes, there are celebrities who provide wonderful, informative and useful content on social media. However, the overwhelming majority of them in Saudi Arabia post poor content that stands against our collective values. These must be restricted. The biggest threat to our society is that foreign actors will take advantage of these platforms that promote malicious and destructive agendas that may undermine our national cohesion and lead to internal division and even violence. Therefore, a few actions must be taken.

First, penalties should include actual imprisonment and not merely financial fines. Second, a clear system must be implemented to govern and monitor social media advertising. The Ministry of Commerce has a great responsibility to control the advertising market. Any advertising activities taken by influencers or celebrities on social media platforms must first be cleared by the ministry. Similarly, the government must create a licensure system to ensure compliance with mandatory guidelines for social media ads. 

Let’s not forget: young children are often influenced by the tastes of celebrities more than their own tastes. When celebrities promote any product, no matter how poor it might be, it immediately becomes a trend. Too many consumers are following celebrity ads without realizing that they have fallen victim to misleading advertising that isn’t governed by professional ethics or state regulations. It’s time to change that. 

–Hussain Bin Hamad Al-Raqib

THE ‘CLUBHOUSE’ DICTATORSHIP OF IDEAS

Al-Ahram, Egypt, July 18

Clubhouse is one of the most popular and controversial mobile apps to enter our lives this past year. It was launched with the beginning of the pandemic and quickly gained followers all over the world. At its core, the app allows users to enter virtual rooms where they can engage in live audio conversations with other users. When I spoke to one of my friends who is an avid user of Clubhouse, she claimed to feel “real freedom” when engaging in conversations on the platform. She also lauded the ability to listen to diverse opinions about various issues. 

While I certainly agree with her that people need to engage in more dialogue, we must also ask ourselves: Who exactly is using the Clubhouse platform to amplify and spread their messages? My friend, for example, didn’t hide the fact that in many of the conversations she attended, including those revolving around issues of political transformations in the Middle East, the speakers identified as members of the Muslim Brotherhood. When I spoke to her a few days later, I found her tuning in to a Clubhouse conversation she described as “wonderful.” That session featured the head of the political bureau of one of the Palestinian armed factions, who spoke for over an hour about Egypt and its recent involvement in the Gaza war. My friend listened in awe as the man described his movement’s struggle against the occupation. 

And this is precisely what is so dangerous about Clubhouse: Whoever creates a room immediately controls the conversation. He or she can determine who has the “mic” at their own discretion. If they so choose, they can let others speak or invite specific audience members to comment. Conversely, if they want to dominate the conversation, they can leave everyone else in attendance as a listener. 

I asked my friend whether she spoke or not. She replied that despite “raising” her hand and requesting to participate in the conversation, she was denied again and again by the moderator. It was therefore clear that the speaker prepared his talking points in advance and didn’t want anyone else to participate in the conversation. 

Herein lies the problem: a platform cannot claim to facilitate free discourse and exchange of ideas when, in reality, it consists of rooms dominated by one single voice. Without the ability to challenge the speaker, push back against his rhetoric or simply ask questions, the Clubhouse platform simply becomes a soapbox on which anyone with enough power can spread fake news and misinformation. For example, one of the recent rooms I stumbled upon consisted of about 10 people who talked about an impending revolution in Egypt. They claimed that a coup would take place within just a few days. I believe in dialogue, but it must be real dialogue, one that enables contradicting opinions, not one in which one person speaks and the other subserviently listens. –Sharif Aref

OUR NATIONAL ASSEMBLY REPRESENTATIVES ARE A DISGRACE

Al-Qabas, Kuwait, June 17

The people of Kuwait have always been loyal to their country and to the House of Al-Sabah. Since the inception of Kuwait to this very day, we have all pledged our allegiance to our homeland. But while the Kuwaiti public maintains its loyalty to our nation, it seems as if some of our politicians aren’t. 

It is not a secret that Kuwait has suffered from successive governments that ignore the people’s demands and hopes. We have seen corruption scandals unfold one after the other. Under normal democratic governance, the citizens are involved in the political system by electing representatives that represent and advance the public’s social, economic, cultural and religious conditions. In healthy democracies, people exchange opinions and ideas even when they disagree with each other. But in Kuwait, there is no tolerance for contradictory opinions. 

Our members of parliament gave rise to a tradition in which anyone who disagrees with them is an enemy. Instead of being a place where people debate different policies and political agendas, the National Assembly has become a kindergarten: a place where our legislators scream and wail, and attack anyone who dares defy the majority. Instead of following the principles of democracy, they have adopted the concept of aristocracy, the rule of the elite. They speak about the constitution day and night but, in reality, undermine the very principles of our constitution on a regular basis. They are guided by nothing more than partisan whims and narrow political interest. 

I recall the empty promises they made before getting elected. Where are all of the laws they promised? What happened to the non-harassment law? The small business protection law? Why does our parliament refuse to form an ethics committee that will review and sanction legislators who abuse their role? Instead of taking care of our future and working to build a better country for future generations, these individuals abuse our public funds, manipulate the people who elected them to office, and then disregard any piece of criticism that is directed their way. Then they dare appear in public and cry about the state of our country. What a shame.

 –Faisal Mohammed Bin Sabt

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.





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