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Technology for ignorance and backwardness - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The winds and hurricanes of the Arab revolutions have strongly affected the whole political scene, and these revolutions themselves were particularly affected by the “virtual scene” of new social media, including websites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. The influence of these online tools with regards to what happened in Egypt and Tunisia has resulted in their users describing them as a revolutionary reference guide for beginners, akin to a “Revolution for Dummies”, along the lines of the well-known publication.

The process begins with a page on the well known social networking website, Facebook, which is seen by a number of users who comment upon it. They interact utilizing this Facebook group, posting pictures and video footage, and links to YouTube. In addition to this, news excerpts and comments also appear on Twitter. This encapsulates the integrated, influential and highly effective “virtual scene”, not only at a local or even regional level, but globally.

Of course, these virtual means are employed in this instance to disclose important issues; issues of injustice, corruption, and racism, etc. These are issues which affect communities in the same manner as cancerous tumors that devastate the body.

However, with great regret, in the Arab world it seems that these [technological] means have also been transformed into tools to perpetuate and deepen sectarian strife, regionalism, tribalism, racism, and discrimination in general. There is now a staggering amount of exclusionary and extremist content on Facebook, which incite sectarianism and promote the merits of certain doctrines, tribes, and sects, at the expense of others. This is a frightening phenomenon which will results in a number of social and cultural problems, and in turn these will have political and economic repercussions that cannot be overlooked.

It is strange that the Arabs, in certain areas of their homelands, have been able to employ modern technology in order to entrench narrow closed beliefs, and entrench social backwardness, instead of using these great tools to build nations, nurture societies and develop infrastructure. This is evidence of the ills found in soft and fragile communities which lack cohesion, and thus resort to their weak roots to bring certain parties together.

The proliferation of virtual means of communication, in particular the new social media, cannot be overlooked. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are the two largest countries in the Middle East, with the largest number of social network users, although there are staggering growth rates in a number of other countries. The internet has become the most influential means for the circulation of news, the dissemination of information, and for communication and interaction, especially in the under-30 age group, where the internet is very influential compared to traditional methods.

Freedom, in the sense of a genuine civil concept, is disappearing and hiding behind the walls of ignorance and racism, which leads to internal rifts. This is an issue that can be easily exploited by anybody who wants to cause trouble or incite destruction. It is important to acknowledge and recognize the basis of this problem, and that is the presence of extremism, racism and ignorance. When used in this atmosphere, modern technology is nothing more than a convenient way to disseminate this twisted, destructive logic. Instead of being a constructive element, it can easily be used as a tool to incite strife and cause destruction.

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi is a businessman and prominent columnist. Mr. Shobokshi hosts the weekly current affairs program Al-Takreer on Al-Arabiya, and in 1995 he was chosen as one of the "Global Leaders for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum. He received his BA in Political Science and Management from the University of Tulsa.

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