Almost every person on the planet, teenagers and adults, are using Facebook. Facebook is a social network group which is primarily designed to connect people. However, it has recently become much more as it is largely used as a mean to promote different causes such politics, religion, health, sport, advertisements and so forth.
Since the beginning of 2011, Facebook has become synonymous with political upheaval throughout the Middle East. People now discuss their political views on the situations concerning their countries openly with no discretion. They share videos, links, photos and whatever means available to support their case and turn their passion into action. Social groups and secret groups are created daily to gather as many supporters as possible to share updates and plans.
The impact of Facebook has been powerful in politics and is evident through the series of jokes regarding the fear that Arab presidents have of Facebook. One example is where Mumaar Al-qaddafi is depicted saying “I’m not a dictator, I won’t close Facebook…but I will arrest whoever uses it.”
Tunisia is largely considered the first country to take advantage of Facebook as it was the first country to revolt against their oppressive regime in Arab world. During the revolution, protesters created a Facebook page which turned into the primary source for information for protestors.
As many may know, Egypt, too, used Facebook as a catalyst for its peaceful revolution as they used it to organize demonstrations and day-to-day schedules. In an interview with CNN, activist Wael Ghonem credited Facebook with the success of the Egyptian people’s uprising.
Since then, other Middle East countries followed Egypt’s lead and made use of all tools available in Facebook to seek change, removal, or maintain of current regime.
However, not all countries are fortunate enough to have access to Facebook. Syria’s government, for example, has banned Facebook and its citizens are denied access. Bashar Al-Assad’s regime – as Syrian citizens correctly believe – is fully aware the power of Facebook and does not want to grant its citizens the freedom of speech that Facebook provides.
Yemen is certainly one of these countries that utilized Facebook during its revolution. Many Yemenis find Facebook as an effective tool to communicate and allows individuals to play an active and unique part in the revolution.
Nashwa Mohammed, a working woman, is a fan of Facebook, but at the same time she thinks it’s a double-edged sword. “On one hand, shared links and videos may provide a lot of information that may be beneficial. On the other hand, such information has ended relationships between people and creates unnecessary tension due to disagreement of political views.” Nashwa admits that she herself is no longer in contact with some of her friends due to differences of opinions and the harsh language they used against each other.
Other Yemenis use it because they cannot be physically present in every revolutionary square throughout the country. Additionally, female users find it easier to serve and participate online at their houses and have had a large impact on the revolution. At the same, females can transfer news, spread messages, instruct people, and invite people to events all from inside their home.
It is without a doubt that Facebook has its negative and positive aspects depending on how people choose to handle it. Whereas some people may use it in best of intentions, others may use it to spread chaos and disorder among groups which makes its news feed less reliable and devoid of integrity. Usama Rahmat-Allah, a graphic and webmaster engineer, thinks that Facebook is more like a tool for advertising. Usama pointed out that Facebook “has its positives and negatives, but I believe that the largest setback is the lack of proper monitoring. People can post whatever regardless of its real origin or if it’s true or not. For example, IDs of users may not always be authentic. Accordingly, it helps both those who have positive views and those who have negative ones.”
Returning to disagreement and conflicts, Hana Afif, an employee at an oil company, wrote on her Facebook status describing her experiences. Hana asked, “is it fair that people you once consider friends and family suddenly turn their back on you simply because you disagree with them in views?” Hana says no as “it is totally understandable that people vary in their political views but this must not lead them to harm other peoples’ feelings!”
Still, some find that Internet in general and Facebook in particular, is not such an effective tool as many people believe. Elders, for example, are rarely familiar with either. They see direct communication such as face to face communication in social gatherings or qat sessions much more useful.
Nancy Madani, a beauty salon owner, claims that she doesn’t believe in things posted on the Internet. “I trust those who are close to me and those with whom I interact with one-on-one because Facebook provides all sort of news but when something is incorrect, you won’t find who is to blame for the error, unlike TV where you can just blame the channel,” Nancy explained. Many share Nancy’s view and recognize the terrible impact of using Facebook to spread misinformation.
Facebook will certainly continue to play an important role in connecting people, but with today’s political escalation, can it cause adverse affects? Will Facebook cause dispute? Will it keep its value as a reliable source of information or become as ancient as Myspace? Only time will tell.