The Big Debate – Relevance and Role of Social Media

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Opposing views on relevance and role of of social media enliven debate at Arab Social Media Influencers summit 


“Social media is not ‘real’ media, it feeds off traditional media,’ says Ali Jaber

“Social media is at the vanguard of news content and shapes the way we consume news,’ counters Ahmed Shihab-Eldin

Experts debated the relevance and role of Social Media vis-a-vis traditional media at DardaChat, one of the major events at the inaugural Arab Social Media Influencers Summit.

At a session held on the first day of the Summit, DardaChat speakers Ali Jaber, Director of MBC Group and Dean of Mohammed bin Rashid School of Communication, and Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, journalist and expert on social media, presented opposing views on social and traditional media.

In his opening remarks, Ali Jaber said did not consider social media a real threat to traditional media and that he was not ready to mourn the death of radio, newspapers or television yet. “Social media does not follow the process of verification that is so integral to news reporting. It is a loose discussion where users chat and offer personal opinions as opposed to news where research, verification and accountability are crucial before going public,” he argued.

“In addition, a majority of the content of social media is derived from traditional media. 70% of YouTube’s content comprises television clips while the rest most conversations of Facebook or Instagram are debates and discussion around popular TV programmes such as Arab’s Got Talent,” continued Jaber.

Offering a completely different viewpoint, Ahmed Shihab-Eldin presented the transformative and critical role that social media played during the Arab Spring. “Social media has changed how we communicate with each other and how we consume news. During the events of the Arab Spring, we witnessed a perceptible shift in social media as it became the primary platform for people to connect and mobilise action and change,” he said.

“News became decentralised as citizen journalists posted on the ground live updates, informing people around the world what was happening almost instantly. News corporations struggled to keep up and have now accepted and adapted their traditional reporting to include inputs from the community via social media. This speaks of the power of social media. Traditional media cannot compete with social media when it comes to audience size, frequency and timeliness.”

Shihab-Eldin discussed how social media can provide nuanced and more factual reporting than traditional media by ‘crowd-sourcing’ reportage. “Social media gives the people a voice and fills in information gaps. We can now view news through the eyes of the people experiencing events as they take place. Authenticating a source is easier on social media through geo-location tracking.”

In conclusion, both speakers agreed on the symbiotic relationship between traditional and social media. “While television provides the fuel for debate on social media, we also see people or events that were first popular on social media being featured on television,” stated Jaber.

“We need to embrace multi-platform storytelling,” stated Shihab-Eldin. “As social moves to mobile media, we will see increasingly personalised content which is a huge opportunity for both social and traditional platforms alike.”

The first event of its kind in region, Arab Social Media Influencers Summit brings together more than 1500 social media experts from Arab countries and across the world. As many as 38 leading speakers and influencers at the Summit will inspire young Arabs to employ their innovative ideas to serve the Arab community through optimal use of social media channels. The Summit concludes on March 18.

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