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Social media and the occupation


2011-11-19

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Under the title 'Social media and the Occupation' Palestinian and international speakers discussed the use of social media by Israeli authorities as well as Palestinian activists. The event was hosted by the MDC and PARC (Palestinian and American Research Center)and among the speakers was the American professor at Duke University, Rebecca Stein.

Dr. Stein explained that social media is often being given a lot of credit as a tool for ‘digital diplomacy’ for democratic grassroots activists, but according to Stein this is ‘digital utopia’:

“What is forgotten is that these technologies are also available to authorities and repressive state forms, and they can be mobilized from the top just as easily as they can be mobilized from the bottom,” Stein said.

Currently researching the use of social media by Israeli authorities as a political tool in the context of the military occupation, Dr. Stein presented some of her main results from her research, concluding that though the Israeli authorities are using social media more and more, the majority of the social media strategies have been improvisational.

“I think the state is really trying to remake its image having this social media in mind, but I think the effects have yet to be seen,” Stein said.

Rebecca Stein on Digital OccupationCritical views on social media
In spite of it being the day before the holidays the event attracted close to 40 people including local and international journalists, media and communication professionals as well as students and others intrigued by the headline of the event.

All speakers presented critical angles to the celebration of social media as a means for democratic activism and represented a broad variety of backgrounds as noted by one of the speakers, the Jordan-based Ramsey George.

“This is an interesting lineup for a talk on this topic - we have a professor, someone who kind of sits in the middle and the true media activist,” he said.
Drawing on his own observations in regard to the use of social media in the Arab uprisings, George noted that revolutions have happened before through other means, but that social media tools just grant new ways to communicate effectively.
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“Unions in Egypt have been organizing for 50 years. The popular committees in Palestine has existed for a long time. Social media tool have just helped push their messages into the mainstream media,” George concluded.

Agreeing with this, the coordinator of the Research and Policy Unit, Abdelrahim Abdallah noted:

“The dominant narrative about the Arab Spring has been that social media moved the masses and brought democracy to the Middle East. I question that. Social media was a minor not a major cause or even a tool."

Social media to overcome boundaries set by the occupation
In spite of the speakers’ critical perspectives on the view of social media as a catalyst of democracy and revolutions, student and activist Nejla Keyed talked about how social media can actually work as a tool to overcome the obstacles Palestinians face by the occupation.

“Instead of just watching the mainstream news and get high blood pressure from frustration we now have the possibility to talk to the IDF spokesman (through twitter, ed.). We can also reach people from the USA, from Europe and everywhere. And we can reach other Palestinian people. And because we have checkpoints that prevents us from meeting on ground, it’s important for us to use social media,”  Kayed said and explained that using social media grants credibility because the information comes from people on the ground rather than governments.


After the talks, the speakers engaged in debates with the audience who eagerly discussed states’ and authorities’ use of social media.

Read all of Abdelrahim Abdallah’s talk on the MDC blog

Read more about Rebecca Stein and her research


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