In the wake of the Arab Spring, the use of social media has changed the way news is reported around the world, according to a host of speakers at AUB’s annual international media conference.
Organized by AUB’s Media Studies program, “Digital Media and Literacy” brought together influential figures from across the globe to participate in the 16th annual international Arab-United States Association of Communication Educators (AUSACE) conference held on October 26-31, 2011.
The conference focused on the role of digital and social media in the Arab Spring uprisings and in changing journalism and media education, civil society and activism.
Household names from the fields of journalism and social activism, including Renee Hobbs, Dana Priest, Andy Carvin, Sultan al-Qassemi, Sami Ben Gharbia, as well as the Lebanese Minister of Education and Higher Education, H.E. Dr. Hassan Diab, participated in the event.
Priest, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist from the Washington Post, shared her experience in investigative journalism in the digital era, and urged those working in the media to harness the power of the internet to find hidden sources and to uncover stories that can help others.
“The core mission of journalism is to find out what the government is doing, informing the public, and giving a voice to the voiceless,” she said.
Carvin, senior strategist at NPR (National Public Radio), said social media had become vital in breaking news coverage and had expanded the realm of the media. This was particularly evident during this year’s uprisings in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, he said.
As Twitter posts from the three countries continued to pour in during the Arab Spring, Carvin said the site became a newsroom of social media activists and regular users acting as reporters, creating a sense of situational awareness that made it a collaborative reporting tool.
Carvin posed the question that if social media impacts society this much with political issues, what about with other topics such as climate changes and medical issues?
“The only way to know is to try it out,” he said.
Diab said that social media, while a welcome means of expanding freedom of expression, needed to be treated with care.
“Digital and media literacy today are prerequisites to a healthy democratic system and an empowered citizenry,” he said. “However, this phenomenon of media ubiquity is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it empowers us to access information and communicate freely at speeds and with ease never witnessed in history. The critical role digital media continue to play in the popular uprisings that swept the Arab world is well known to everyone.”
The conference took an unexpected turn when Diab finished his speech and Jad Melki, AUB professor of journalism and media studies and conference organizer, took the stage.
Melki had asked the crowd not to tweet about Diab’s speech and not to take photos or videos. In response, a mob of students interrupted proceedings with protests and chants that were simultaneously accompanied by the hacking of the conference projector, upon which flashed up a YouTube video of the popular Arab Spring chant “the people want to change the system,” as well as a Twitter message stating that “AUSACE 2011 has been hacked by Anonymous.”
The revolt was capped off by a large dabke rendition, performed by students. Conference organizers later confirmed that the flash mob was fully planned and scripted, and the request to censor the crowd was part of the stunt.