|Picture by Tarek Amr|
Very much to my surprise, I was asked to sit on the podium during the presentation of our Young Media Summit 2010 results at Cairo University yesterday afternoon. Wow.
The question directed at me specifically was whether social media like Facebook or Twitter could contribute to intercultural dialogue. In groups, we had worked on variations of the topic in the morning, and had come to the following conclusions*:
While individuals typically use social media in many different ways, and while missing language skills oftentimes impede their use, visual communication through images and videos may indeed aid intercultural communication. It is important to note disparities in online and offline social behaviour, like when ending friendships. On Facebook, banning someone from your life is done with a click; parting ways in real life, however, isn't always as easy.
Meanwhile, the group I had joined focused on political implications of the use of social networks and possible consequences on bilateral relations. Assumptions we made were:
Social networks may have positive democratic effects, but as yet no revolutionary democratic movements have formed. And: Governments may employ digitalization to exert more control over citizens.
During our discussion, the Arabic speaking members of my group were expressing a strong wish for democracy. To my surprise, they also demanded for more Western governments to advertise press freedom and freedom of speech in the Arab world. Western members of the blogosphere, too, were asked to exert more pressure on their own governments by reporting on their Arab colleagues. Many of whom are facing prosecution for criticizing their governments - if there are no specific charges, they will get accused for "fomenting unrest". Blocked access to their websites is the smallest of a number of constant threats there. I found listening to the recounts of such first-hand experiences very disturbing. As unfortunately I forgot to mention this during my time on the podium, I am seizing the opportunity of this post.
From my debater's chair I was very happy to see people from the audience engaging. The students directed plenty of different questions at us, many of which revolved around the personal risks and sacrifices that blogging entails in certain Arab countries. As bloggers lead a pretty untroubled existence in Germany, I couldn't share any personal experiences in this regard. But I like to think that I did make a point by suggesting that there was no need to risk everything straight away: Take one step at a time, see how you feel, proceed if willing to do so.
From what I could tell, Asma, Eman, Hardy, Yassen and I did a good job. Other #YMS2010 participants added their own points from their front-row seats. And in spite of the delicate issues we touched upon, I saw lots of smiling faces in the audience. The Deutsche Welle might publish a video of the event, so let's all hope that you'll be able to form your own opinion about how things went soon!
And if you thought these were my last words on the Young Media Summit 2010, I'm sorry for letting you down: There will be more... ;)
* Thanks, Julia, for helping with the points that had slipped my mind.