Information may be “the oxygen of the modern age,” as Ronald Reagan famously said, but information technology is a mixed bag. Among other things, it has fueled the rise of global jihadism as we know it today.
It enabled a nest of tunnel-based terrorists in Afghanistan to coordinate the most deadly non-state terrorist attack in history 15 years ago. More recently, it has populated a new Islamic “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq with volunteers from around the world.
But there is a silver lining to the widespread use and abuse of social media in the Middle East: It can tell us a great deal about the individuals sitting behind the electronic screens.
Take Hashtag Palestine, the title of an insightful report by Hamleh, the Arab Center for Social Media Advancement. The Ramallah based-nongovernmental organization is dedicated to training individuals and community-based groups to engage in grassroots social media activism. Its recent report on Palestinian social media activity in 2015, a year that launched what is now called the Knife Intifada, is revealing.
Nearly two-thirds of Palestinians have computer access and half use a smartphone.
Palestinians, like others in the world, have become active internet users. Nearly two-thirds report having a computer and half use a smartphone. Young people form the majority of users. With this level of penetration, the Internet is already playing a significant social role in their lives.
What has been trending in Palestine? The report analyses 18 campaigns that tell us something about the Palestinian mood.
The most popular recorded campaign was “#it_will_not_be_divided,” centered on thwarting imagined secret Israeli plans to divide or even destroy al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, a popular theme of Islamist leaders who incite violence. Ironically, Israel and Jordan, which are custodians of Temple Mount, recently reached a new understanding on how to better handle the management of the holy site. Continue reading