Wednesday, December 15, 2010

New Media and the Rise of the Public Sphere in Saudi Arabia: the Case of the 2009 Floods in Jeddah

Facebook, Youtube, online forums and the portal were among the platforms that witnessed lots of movement in regards to the action that took place during the Jeddah floods of 2009. A team of students, led by their instructor, Dr. Yeslam Al-Saggaf, were concerned about the roles of these platform in promoting civil engagement.

Dr. Yeslam Al-Saggaf, an Accosiate Professor as well as the Director or the Research and Consultancy Institute at Effat University, gave his talk at the symposium today about the team's experience and findings.

The team wasn't particularly concerned about what had happened during the floods. They were more interested in learning about the role of these social media platforms in regards to the floods.

The team was divided into four groups, with each group focused on one of the four platforms mentioned. The groups started out by trying to understand the nature media and looking at different literature on the matter. After that came in class discussions. Their methodology consisted of qualitative techniques including collecting data via silent observation. Each group observed the four platforms and gathered their findings. Al-Saggaf continues by talking about the different challenges met by the team. One challenge consisted of making sense of the large amount of data collected. The team used vivo, a qualitative analysis software, to aid them with their data.

The results: The team reported on the experience of those who were active in the social media sphere. What has become to be quite noticeable is the role of these people. Not only do we no longer rely solely on the information presented by the media, but the media has come to use these platforms as a source of information. It was the individuals who were the information holders. By using these platforms as tools, they posted videos, photos and information about the floods. "They challenged the reality of the media," says Dr. Yeslam.
In regards to the online forums, "people discussed." And by using the evidence from the individuals, "the were able to reach consensus." This allowed people to come to terms about what had happened. Dr. Yeslam adds that social media was useful not only for discussions, but it was useful for the healing process as well. Jeddah citizens didn't only report, they had also called for action.

Because of the circulation of the various reports, immediate action was to take place. The government  ordered for an immediate investigations as well as a compensation for this affected. Citizens helped and contributed as well. This also an area where these platforms came in. It helped organize various volunteer groups.

Dr. Yeslam concludes his talk by emphasizing the role of these platforms. Because of the circulation of what was published, it reached so many different mediums. It led to many calls for action, more solutions were found, and a thorough investigation took place. Information was made available by all and to all.

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