To #socialmedia or not to social media – #Gulf newspapers say yes, Gulf governments say no

The last twelve months have been a defining year for social media across the Middle East. Citizen journalism has flourished. Most of the mainstream media publications have also adopted or begun to adopt social media as another channel to reach the general public.

The first adopters were media outlets in the UAE, particularly those who were already well established digital media. You have the likes of arabianbusiness.com who tweet at @ArabianBusiness – the site has over 27,000 tweets and 13,000 followers on Twitter and almost 3,500 likes on Facebook. Dubai’s largest English-language newspaper Gulf News which tweets at @gulf_news, has over 21,000 followers on Twitter. Abu Dhabi’s The National has a number of prolific social media users on its writing staff, including @ben_flanagan…

…and @amna_alhaddad

Interesting for those based outside of the UAE is how media re now turning to Twitter and Facebook. Saudi’s largest English-language publication, the Arab News, has long had a Facebook site. Arab News has more likes than Arabian Business. Rival publication Saudi Gazette has a Twitter feed on its site, and recently launched its Twitter handle, @TheSaudiGazette, last month.

Similarly in Bahrain, its largest English-language newspaper the Gulf Daily News now has Twitter and Facebook aggregator tools on every newspage. We’ll doubtless see more media using social networks to reach a wider audience.

While the Gulf’s media is moving ahead with social media, the region’s governments are clamping down on what could be termed anonymous social media users probably due to the role that social media has played in the Arab Spring.

Bahrain was the first to propose legislation. The country’s parliament discussed new punishments for cybercrime that include 10-year prison sentences and fines of up to 300,000 Bahraini Dinars. Kuwait and UAE are following suit. Both countries have questioned and/or detained bloggers of late for varying reasons. One article this week in Kuwait’s media suggested that the country could ban anonymous social media activity.

UAE officials have suggested that anyone caught using social media ‘irresponsibly’ will be punished.

Will the drive to regulate social media in the Gulf work? Can’t wait to find out!

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