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Opinion: Do social networking sites really bridge the communication gap? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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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 take us from one stop to another. Rather, they act as a mirror which reflects our societies.

In the US 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 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 a hypothesis. Actually, the general conclusion is the opposite! Information has increased, but this has not improved understanding.

On Twitter, Al-Qaeda followers’ tweets are full of threats and pride in displaying the severed heads that the group has cut off and tied up 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.

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. 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.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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