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Sultan Al Qassemi- Making a difference on Twitter

SultanLast summer I had the pleasure of meeting Sultan Al Qassemi (@SultanAlQassemi) when he joined my Public Diplomacy class at Emerson College. He was in Boston for a few days attending events and Dr. Payne (@JGPAYNE) somehow charmed Sultan and convinced him to join us in class that evening.

At the time, Sultan did not mention that he had been named one of TIME Magazine’s 140 Best Twitter Feeds in March 2011. Since the summer, he has also been named one of The Most Influential Non-Celebrity Users of Twitter by UK’s The Independent. But you wouldn’t know any of these things when you meet Sultan. He’s incredibly humble and doesn’t seem to believe that he has “tweeted up a revolution,” as the UK’s Guardian says, nor that he is the Twitter King of the Arab Spring, per Chatham House. It wasn’t until I began my research for this blog post that I began to understand fully the influence Sultan has had.

Sultan currently has 96,840 followers. He is a thirty-three year old fellow at the Dubai School of Government and a freelance columnist, raised in the United Arab Emirates and educated in Paris, per TIME Magazine. Sultan made such an impact because he took the time to translate everything that was happening in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Syria into English. He translated all of the information like full speeches by Muammar Gaddafi, not just providing two sentence summaries as many Western newswires were doing (Chatham House). That and he removed opinion from his tweets, saving it for his longer articles (Guardian).

At one point he accounts that he was tweeting a new update every 45 seconds (TIME Magazine). For three weeks he wasn’t eating or sleeping (Guardian). Sultan took time off work and was tweeting over 20 hours a day (Chatham House). His following exploded once world journalists began to retweet him (Guardian). When asked what the impact of social media has had on the revolutions he said, “I think that the revolutions would have happened anyway, but I think social media was a tool, a mobiliser, a conduit, that people found each other through” (Guardian).

When asked about his current interests in the area, he sites Egypt and Saudi Arabia, saying “If Saudi [Arabia] changes, then everything changes. If Saudi empowers women, the rest of the region empowers women. It’s a multiplier effect. Saudi is on the cusp of major change – and it has nothing to do with people marching in the streets” (Guardian).

Some of you mentioned earlier that you did not understand the impact social media was having in the Arab Spring or that you thought it was over-credited. After reading this post and seeing all of the articles around one man, have your thoughts changed?

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The Culture Code of Social Media

During our pictorial presentations in class, I was struck by how much emphasis our class placed on social media as a key component to globalization. As members of Generation Y, we are pioneering this communication channel each day, a channel that is allowing people across the world to communicate and connect like never before. Please view the below video, which highlights specifics as to the impact social media is having:

One of the most important pieces of this video in terms of globalization in my mind is the statement “Word of Mouth is on digital steroids.” The best example many of us can think of today is the impact social media has had on the “Arab Spring,” the beginning of revolutions in many Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. “Although they shared a common call for personal dignity and responsive government, the revolutions across these three countries reflected divergent economic grievances and social dynamics” per ForeignAffairs.com. The people experiencing these revolutions could not turn to their media for trustworthy information, and so they turned to each other instead. They reached out as “citizen journalists,” like Alex mentioned in her posts, and informed each other about the dangers, the strengths, and the possibilities they faced. Just think, how much of your news do you take in from social media?

I’d like to propose that social media has different meaning across cultures, as we found there are often different “codes” across cultures for the same expression, experience, or item. I’d like to think about Clotaire Rapaille’s The Culture Code and propose that the culture code for social media in the U.S. would be something like “IDEA,” whereas the culture code for social media in the Middle East may be more like “FREEDOM.” Do you agree with these proposed culture codes for social media? If not, what do you think is more reflective?

Stay tuned for my next post, describing one of the most influential Twitter users in the Middle East. You can start following him now @SultanAlQassemi.

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