Social Media and Minority Groups
of high speed Internet and the many social media tools that it has enabled
to emerge have changed the way we communicate, connect and organise.
Muslim women can use social media to instigate change, both within
patriarchal societies or externally through connecting with non-Muslims
around the world. For the first time, the power of social media can be
used to instigate global change.
as we know it today is a relatively new occurrence in the history of human
interactions. It shares its fundamental purpose – to communicate,
connect and organise – with traditional media such as print newspaper,
television or citizen assemblies. However, it becomes a different beast
altogether when we take into consideration the anytime/anywhere
convenience with which it can be accessed, the almost instantaneous speed
with which it can spread a message, and its borderless grasp of a global
is often lauded as a foolproof way for citizens or independent journalists
to circumvent the bias of mainstream media and to mass communicate. I
believe we should approach this with some caution. Increasingly mainstream
media outlets are shifting their business models to suit the online
environment. In June 2012, Fairfax media released a statement on the Fairfax
of the Future. Fundamental changes to the Fairfax business model were
meant to position the company to thrive in a digital-only environment,
should this be required.
media outlets recognise this need to shift to online environments and
increasingly use tools such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to convey
messages. While it is true that social media provides, for the first time,
an outlet for independent voices, powerful media establishments are also
saturating this space. Importantly, in the Fairfax
of the Future announcement, Managing Director Greg Haywood states
‘our investment in quality journalism and our editorial standards will
not be compromised and will continue to underpin our success.’ Quality
content is crucial to influencing and growing an audience, regardless of
the medium through which it is conveyed. Even if print is dead (or
dying!), in the words of Bill Gates, ‘content remains king’.
In an online
world, the effectiveness with which we can communicate content and harness
audience attention also becomes important. Speaking at the Social Capital
Conference in July 2012, University of Ottawa’s social media specialist
Adrian Ebsary said, ‘with more than 500 million users sending out
50 million tweets per day on Twitter and some 901 million Facebook
users inundating the net with posts and updates, it’s easy to get caught
up in the chaos’. Communicating quality content effectively is the key
to standing out in the chaos online.
also a critical element of what spurs social media use. Several studies
have shown that minority groups in Western countries often rely on social
media to a greater extent than Caucasians to ‘spread the word’ or as a
tool for mobilising a cause. This particular use of social media by
minority groups is not so surprising when we tie it into the ‘real
world’ sense of alienation prevalent amongst minority youth in Australia
and around the world.
Using social media to ‘spread the word’ about a particular
cause reflects the unwarranted expectation often placed on minority groups
to justify or explain their place in the mainstream community.
Muslim women, the use of social media has also become an important
mechanism to connect within
patriarchal societies. In May 2011, Manal al-Sharif posted a video of
herself driving the Saudi streets on YouTube where she openly flouted
Saudi Arabian laws that prevent women from driving. Al-Sharif was jailed
for nine days for her open disobedience. Saudi authorities did all they
could to remove traces of the video, shut down her Facebook page
encouraging women to drive, and altered tweets on her Twitter account.
Nonetheless, she inspired other Saudi women who have since taken to
driving through the streets, and using social media to document this, in
support of al-Sharif and their own rights.
and connecting via social media becomes especially powerful when it is
used to organise a movement. The role of Facebook and Twitter in the
uprising throughout Arab countries in 2011 was instrumental. There is
debate about whether social media instigated the uprisings or was merely a
tool to facilitate it, but nonetheless, it had an important role in
organising people to take collective action. The world took notice. For
the first time, social media was used to instigate a revolution.
that analysed social media usage by Muslim women around the world showed
that Muslim women are a growing voice online. In assessing how Muslim
women engaged with non-Muslims online, it found that Muslim women engage
positively and are 27% more likely to respond to questions in blogs, news
media and other channels like Twitter, than Muslim men. According to the
study, Muslim women are also 62% more likely to maintain a positive, open
dialogue than males.
Muslim women are also using social media channels to
discuss scripture and gender roles in culture and according to Islamic
teachings. Social media is being used to allow diverse groups of women to
engage with one another and play a lead role in changing the status of
women in oppressive regimes, as well as in changing modern perceptions of
women’s roles according to religious teachings.
It is safe to say that social media is as powerful
as the person using it. When it is used to communicate quality content
effectively, to create connections between minority groups and broader
society, and to organise people into collectively advocating for change,
it can be revolutionary. To me it is particularly heartening to see that
social media is being used by Muslim women to challenge what is unjust and
to instigate real change where it is needed most.