Huffington Post columnist Faisal Abbas discusses social media and the Arab Spring
October 10, 2011—
“Turn on your smart phones! I am not going to ask you to turn them off,” Faisal Abbas urged audience members at the beginning of his talk on the Beirut campus on September 29.
The award-winning journalist, blogger, social commentator, and LAU alumnus (‘03) even encouraged them to mention him if tweeting from his lecture, titled “The revolution behind the revolution: The role of social media in the Arab spring.”
“Things are changing,” said Abbas, explaining that though revolutions have occurred throughout history, the 2011 Arab revolutions were distinguished by a domino effect facilitated by social media.
Abbas summarized the common causes behind the revolutions, and highlighted the central role of fellow bloggers both in assisting locals and informing the rest of the world about unfolding events. He cited the Egyptian Wael Ghoniem as an example of a blogger whose reach and impact were profound.
“‘To those in power,’” he said, quoting Ghoniem’s words from an interview earlier this year, “‘you are facing a generation which communicates in a way you don’t understand.’”
Abbas spoke about the importance of the Internet in disseminating information, arguing that while traditional mainstream media is biased toward established consensus opinion, social media levels the playing field for a multiplicity of voices.
“People now don’t just watch a story on TV or read about it in a newspaper” after the fact, he said. “They have instant and on-demand access” to events as they unfold, and can even participate in the shaping of the story.
Referring to questions about objectivity in social media, he said the “better argument will always win.”
Abbas blamed dictators for attacking journalists and blocking communication, but noted that the deposed governments contributed to their own downfalls as their tight censorship of the media helped trigger the revolutions.
“A free media diffuses the anger,” he explained. “When you censor media, it stimulates a revolution.”
He argued that the attention on the Middle East in the news has helped this region’s journalists thrive. “The Middle East is suddenly back in the spotlight. It’s a good time to be a journalist here.”
“One thing is certain,” he added. “We never know what to expect next.”
Abbas earned his B.A. in marketing with a minor in communication arts from LAU and his M.A. in marketing communications from the University of Westminster. Based in London, he is known primarily for his column on the popular U.S. website The Huffington Post, which he began writing in 2008.
Abbas has worked for the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al Awsat, Al Hayat Newspaper in Saudi Arabia, Future Television in Lebanon, Leo Burnett in Saudi Arabia and Ink Publishing in London.
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