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What are the dangers? Social media is the main source of news

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Social media is no longer just a secondary means of communication. In recent years it has become a powerful tool capable of influencing public opinion and educating and influencing youth – facets that have been demonstrated over the past decade by the influence of networks on major political and social events in the Middle East .

In the early years of the Arab Spring, before Instagram was as widespread as it is today, activists used Facebook and Twitter to reinforce their demands.

During the August 4, 2020 explosion in Beirut, Lebanese nationals and abroad resorted to social media to portray the consequences of the destruction and call out the world for help, as well as mobilize their communities at home and abroad to serve those in need help .

One could argue that the violence that took place in Palestine, Gaza Strip and Israel in May gained international attention through social media. The pleadings were heard, the violence was seen and, thanks to the widespread sharing in social networks, even experienced as a proxy.

At such events, critical and verified information was disseminated as well as messages that misinformed and passed on falsified data – the double-edged sword of social networks.

Global reliance on social media has continued to increase in recent years, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic. According to Hootsuite’s July 2020 report on global digital growth, digital adoption has increased 10 percent since COVID-19 compared to 12 months earlier. Almost 51 percent of the world’s population currently uses social media at a rate of 1 million new users per day, according to Simon Kemp.

As for the Arab world, the 2021 Arab Barometer report on the digital divide in the region confirmed an increase in internet use for all countries in the Middle East and North Africa during the pandemic promoted by Daniella Raz in The Arab World’s Digital Divide “a digital divide, which is influenced by the economic status of the country and the level of education of its citizens. “

According to the Arab Youth Survey 2021, 61 percent of Arab youth use social media as a news source, compared to 34 percent who consume news online and 9 percent from newspapers – making social media the number one news source for young people.

The MENA region’s young population is increasingly reliant on social media platforms to access information, especially video and visually driven social networks, says Fares Akkad, director of media partnerships for news in emerging markets in Asia Pacific, Latin America, in Middle East Africa and Turkey at Meta.

“This is a trend that has raised the bar over time, and especially amplified during the pandemic, and is likely to grow faster and stronger,” he tells Arab News.

“We saw the strength and scope of the digital world, which provides a platform and voice for millions of people who might otherwise not have it, and provides an open and accessible place for ordinary people to connect through and access an abundance of Access information from politics to lifestyle and fashion. “

Ms. Atim says that networking and mentoring are so important to young people today. You can use such networks on social media and other platforms to develop business skills by sharing ideas with the networks. # TheYouthRadarSeries pic.twitter.com/12lwFff5J2

– Proud Mufumbira ❤🇷🇼🇺🇬 (@uwizeyeblair) October 28, 2021

During COVID-19 there has been a noticeable shift in the way the Arab public accesses information, from traditional media to new media, especially social media. This has led many Arab governments to redefine how they use network platforms to communicate important information with their people.

The World Health Organization also launched its official pages on social media platforms, including WhatsApp – an action that recognizes how social media became a primary source for disseminating official information and data during the pandemic.

However, the same 2019 Arab youth survey showed that 80 percent of Arab youth use social media as a source of information, compared to online (61 percent) and newspapers (27 percent).

The decline in the use of social media as a news source – from 80 percent in 2019 and 79 percent in 2020 to 61 percent in 2021 – underscores the increasing reluctance to use these platforms to get information.

“From most of the surveys I have conducted, it is clear that a large part of the younger generation today depends on social media for news,” said Jad Melki, associate professor and director of journalism and media studies at the Institute for Media Research and Education Lebanese American University, said Arab News.

“A lot of youngsters don’t follow the news at first – they’re more interested in entertainment than news.”

Police say social media challenges on TikTok and other platforms go too far and are now criminal activities. Teenagers were caught on camera kicking the door for a social media challenge https: // t. co / 2iEb8w9hsZ

– Bryan Bicknell (@BBicknellCTV) November 23, 2021

The reluctance to use the platforms stems from negative traits – as critical information is passed on to the public for the benefit of the public, there are also false rumors and misinformation that have contributed to an increase in fear and panic among people. This is especially true for young people, many of whom have not yet had the experience to verify information or turn to other sources.

A case in point is the testimony of Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen at the US Congress in October, in which she stated that Facebook’s products “harm children, fuel divisions and weaken our democracy”. She called for the company to declare “moral bankruptcy” if it is to move forward.

Haugen also accused the company of sowing divisions and inciting ethnic violence and – as she said in Washington – “putting astronomical gains before the people”.

Haugen was cited as the source of a series of revelations in the Wall Street Journal based on internal Facebook (now Meta) documents that revealed the company knew how damaging Instagram was to teenage mental health and how changes were made to the news -Feed function of Facebook also made the platform more divisive among young people.

Haugen’s statement suggests that social media is no longer a secondary method of communication but rather a powerful tool influencing public opinion, and its use has advantages and disadvantages.

It can educate as much as it can misinform; Bringing people and cultures together and fueling terrorism and extremism. In many cases, social media is also overtaking mainstream media as the preferred method of choice to get information.

Akkad acknowledges that Meta’s House of Apps has made it a priority to ensure that “everyone has access to credible and accurate information”. He says Meta removes false claims about vaccines, conspiracy theories, and misinformation that could lead to physical harm.

According to Akkad, Meta is currently removing content that violates its community standards, including more than 20 million incorrect content related to COVID-19 and vaccines.

The platform has built a global network of 80+ independent fact-checking partners who rate the accuracy of posts in 60+ languages ​​in their apps, with partners in the Arab world including AFP, Reuters and Fatabyyano.

It also displayed warnings about more than 190 million COVID-related content on Facebook that Meta fact-checking partners rated as incorrect, partially incorrect, altered, or out of context.

On the plus side, according to Akkad, Meta helped over 2 billion people find credible COVID-19 information through the COVID-19 information center and newsfeed popups.

But is that enough to curb the spread of false information?

Arpi Berberian, Social Media Manager at Create Media Group in Dubai, believes that social media needs to be regulated in order to protect Arab youth and others.

While it is the primary resource for young people in terms of receiving and processing messages, “It should also be up to the recipient to verify facts and sources from what they read online. Especially when it comes to political news, ”she told Arab News.

“In view of the different political systems, educational levels and cultures, it is difficult to generalize to Arab countries,” said Melki.

“Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Iraq, or what we call Western Asia, have been the most uproarious outside of Yemen and Libya, and part of that upheaval has to do with social media and information gathering habits. “

Melki says you can see that the youth are more interested in politics and news as they get older and change generations. In addition, as Melki points out, traditional news now circulates largely online and through social media.

“Nevertheless, a clear majority still watches television – television remains king in all sections of the population, especially when conflicts arise,” he says.

“We conducted a poll during the 2019 Lebanese protests and television was number one for receiving news, followed by social media.”

Melki added that the survey of Syrian refugees inside or outside camps found the same thing – television is the number one way to get the news.

Can the dependence on social media in the Arab world be reversed and does it have to be?

“I don’t think it can be reversed. However, it can be improved, ”says Berberian. “Government guidelines need to be imposed on social media channels, especially large channels with millions of users of all ages.

“It also doesn’t seem like a good idea to have some of the big unbalanced social media platforms run by one entity. Accountability and user safety must be at the forefront of social media. “

If reliance on social media in the Arab world cannot be reduced, and analysts find it has become one, if not the most important, way for youth and the general population to obtain critical information, then regulation and education are the right way . But then who should regulate and educate and under what conditions?

Especially in countries where there are no other opportunities for young people, social media is becoming a window to the world and one with endless social and business opportunities.

This article by Rebecca Anne Proctor has been adapted from its original source

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