Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Social Media for Social Change

Saddiga Al Ghalib, Effat University
John Smith, Learning Alliances USA
Nazeeh Alothmany, KAU
Bayan Abuzinadah, Rumman Company KSA
Michael Fast, AED
Ziad Jarrar, Al Aghr Think Tank
Hanan El Maghraby, Effat University
Lama Sabri, Effat University
Syeda Zarlish, Effat University

Dr. Saddiga: social media is the fastest growing communication technology in history.  Facebook has over 500 million users, and if it were a country, it would be the third largest in the world. One out of 8 couples married in the USA last year met via social media, it would be interesting to do the same study in Saudi Arabia.

Ms. Bayan: 80% of population in Saudi Arabia is younger than 30 years old. We have 11 million Internet users, more than twice the number in 2007.  70% use Arabic online.  41% browse, 30% communicate.  Bulletin boards are very popular here. Fainak means where are you.  It's a social networking website, 2.5 years old. 

Mr. Smith: Choosing Technologies for Communities: Mixing Strong and Weak Ties Communities of practice bring individuals together for sustained conversations.  The video at shows Joseph Sikeku, who runs Community Radio in Tanzania and produces cell phones to record the interviews with farmers that he then broadcasts.  In a community of practice you have a combination of strong (at the center) and weak ties (at the periphery).  Social change results in the farming environment from knowledge plus a sense of community empowerment.  Does technology matter?  It's the relationships that matter.

Dr. Nazeeh:  I used to be part of email-based groups in Saudi Arabia since 1993.  I was in the United States during the 9/11 tragedy in 2001.  Two things happened: everyone wanted to interview the Saudis, and there were huge requests from the community, at least 300 in a week for speakers representing the Islamic community.  There is a myth that the United States is controlling and telling everyone what to do, but I no longer believe in that myth.  Three individuals could become the light at the end of the tunnel, especially with social media. 

Example 1.  In Pittsburgh, a teacher told a 4th grader, "the Quran teaches you to kill Americans."  The parents contacted to us.  At the center, there were three of us: the FBI, the community, and us.  I was interviewed 20-30 times by the FBI in this process.  We wrote a letter to the superiintendent informing him about the situation.  We informed the community through Google groups.  As a result, the Pittsburgh public schools apologized and asked us to help expand the message and offer in service teacher training. 

Example 2: woman taking photos for her driver's license was asked by photographer to remove her head scarf.  After an email campaign, issue was favorably resolved state-wide.

Example 3: TV shows a "bad movie on Saudi during Eid".  After an email letter writing campaign to station, got apologies and film was withdrawn from library.

Similar campaigns helped organize students facing visa delays, as well as present large-scale events about Saudi Arabia on their campuses.  We even organized a wedding, when a student couldn't go home for his wedding because he wouldn't been able to return (due to US visa delays), his wife traveled to Pittsburgh, where we organized a large wedding and invited the media, the diplomatic corps, and especially, the FBI.  Social media works and has many positive uses, and I'm hoping to one day write a book about it!

Michael Fast: curriculum standards lead to higher achievement, but are imposed by ministries.  This represents a problem for effective reform and change.  We're now looking at the use of social media to get a bottom-up involvement in the process. 

Mr. Ziad: I'm a big fan of social media, it has replaced conventional media.  But once we go online, we're developing a virtual identity. This could be dangerous.  Online there is no censor, no borders or boundaries.  You could experience anything, that normally you wouldn't encounter in real life.  For example, Wikileaks, which I'm against, promotes people to go and steal information from their companies and distribute it, but this information was not intended to be seen by the masses.


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