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Maath Musleh on Social Media and Palestine

[Image of Maath Musleh.] [Image of Maath Musleh.]

[This post is part of an ongoing Profile of a Contemporary Conduit series on Jadaliyya that seeks to highlight distinct voices primarily in and from the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia.] 

Jadaliyya (J): What do you think is the most gratifying aspects of Tweeting, and Twitter?

Maath Musleh (MM): Twitter is a platform of expression; that by itself is very gratifying. Being able to speak your mind at any time is relieving. What makes Twitter different from other similar platforms is its simplicity. You do not have much functionality. Twitter is simple: tweet, follow, DM. This simplicity puts all the focus on the idea itself. The simplicity of tweeting has also made this platform the primary platform used to report from the field. Thus, many of the people active on Twitter are also active on ground. And noticeably, the number of your followers is directly related to the level of your activism on ground.

J: What are some of the political/social/cultural limits you’ve encountered using the platform?

MM: The limits and obstacles can be found everywhere. The key point here whether these manage to restrain you or not. If I allow anything to limit my freedom of expression on Twitter, then Twitter will not be my place any longer. Nonetheless, there are many annoying and challenging political and cultural trends amongst Arab tweeps specifically.

The main negative trend on twitter is the tendency to tweet sectarian comments, specifically when discussing several Arab uprisings. The level of sectarianism on Twitter has reached a sickening level. Nonetheless, I refuse to even discuss a sectarian or racist idea with anyone. If we discuss them, we give these ideas legitimacy. Freedom of expression does not include sectarian and racist speech. Thus, I came with a personal rule: “Anyone [who] tweets a sectarian tweet is directly blocked and reported”. This makes life easier and my timeline cleaner. 

J:  In your experience and use of Twitter, do you feel it helps mobilize or disorganize? Focus or crowd? Is it manageable or noisy? Can it help persuade and mobilize or does it turn everyone into a voyeur and spectator?

MM: It can go either way. It is important not to forget that Twitter plays a big role in shedding light on what happens on ground. This was clear during the prisoners’ hunger strike early 2012.  Speaking about tweeps in Palestine (excluding Gaza), I have witnessed the creation of Twitter accounts of many tweeps, including top ones. The main reason behind opening their accounts was to tweet from actions they take part in. So in essence, many of the most followed tweeps are already active on ground in one way or another. But as followers of Palestinian tweeps increase, the coherence between Palestinian tweeps falls. Many amateur tweeps become too independent too early.

Twitter is like a flock. You have birds leading, and others instinctively trusting them. But at the end, the flock works together in coherence and harmony. On Twitter, this works when tweeps network together not only on Twitter, but also outside Twitter. You have an idea that leads the flock. More or less, this has been the case amongst Palestinian tweeps until recently.

Recently, there has been a move to form independent flocks that would eventually split us on Twitter. The move remains marginal to some extent. Nonetheless, I will be prepared to move away from Twitter when it stops becoming a useful tool for advocacy. And to be a useful tool, we need coherence and harmony amongst ourselves on Twitter. Otherwise, it will backfire on us.

It is perfectly healthy to have different ideologies. Nonetheless, we need to agree on principles, and we need to trust each other. If trust and shared principles fall, Twitter will become just another “Facebook”. 

[Image of Maath Musleh.]

J: What initially made you decide to start using Twitter as a platform? Were you a Journalist, writer, scholar, student, before you opened your account?

MM: I opened my personal Twitter account in December, 2009. Nonetheless, I had started using Twitter way before that, maybe around 2008, because I used to work as a social media specialist.

In December 2009, I started my blog, and so I also started a personal Twitter account to gain more exposure for it. But because of my job, I could not tweet or blog with my real name. I was not that active on Twitter.

I became more active on twitter during the March 15 demonstrations in 2011. And because, at the time, Facebook was spammed, I started to become more active on Twitter instead. I started using my real name on Twitter in September, 2011. 

J: In what ways has Twitter helped you as a source of information? How do you sift through that information and determine its credibility?

MM: Verifying the credibility of information on Twitter is not an easy task. For the past two years, a network of Palestinian tweeps has been building. Trust has also been built amongst one another. To a certain level, we know which tweeps we have to follow for credible information. 

There are several trust levels for everyone. I adopt three levels of trust on Twitter. Level 3 of trust is the general level. It includes tweeps who I have noticed have a consistency in accuracy. The Level 2 of trust is more specific. It includes tweeps who I came to know well on Twitter through discussion and conversations. I have come to understand their points of strengths and points of weakness in reporting. 

Level 1 is the close circle. It includes Tweeps who I know personally in real life. This filters the spam of information on twitter.

Nonetheless, Twitter remains only an initial source of information. This information, even if from trusted sources, needs to be verified by sources on ground. It needs to be verified by several sources. It is important to remember that when someone imparts inaccurate information, most of the time they do not do it on purpose. There are many factors that play a role. So when someone verifies your information with other sources, it is not at all an insult to you. 

Twitter can also be a great source for whistle-blowers. It is important to keep an open mind when reading news on Twitter. – and even more important not to participate in spreading rumors. Sometimes, hastiness to tweet news to guarantee more retweets and more followers could make you fall into the dump of rumors. 

It is better to tweet late and accurately than to tweet first and inaccurately. At some point, everyone tweets inaccurate information. I tweeted a lot of inaccurate information in the past. Sometimes you fail in verifying news. It is okay as long as you correct it and apologize. 

J: Does Twitter turn activists into slacktivists?

MM: Twitter is important.  When there is an action on the ground, it is extremely important that people are on Twitter tweeting about it and spreading the word. The problem is that the majority decide to take that role. The balance is not quite as everyone hopes. We need more people on ground. Nonetheless, as I said before, a lot of the tweeps are active on ground. And when they tweet, they tweet from the field.

It is human nature to have a tendency to slack off. But at the end of the day, I cannot judge the level of activity of anyone by how active they are on Twitter. And let us remember, the acts of struggle and resistance are not only the ones we see.

Sometimes actions could be so sensitive that they remain covered in secrecy during planning and after execution. Many Palestinians are in Israeli prisons now just because of this unhealthy phenomenon. Many people have full time jobs of just pointing fingers at people and deciding who is an activist and who is not, or who is patriotic and who is not. In a way, they help the occupation in trying to make actions planned in secrecy surface, and thus fail.

We never know what everyone does. And we do not need to know. Everyone should just focus on what they do.

[Maath Musleh tweets at @MaathMusleh and blogs at Palestine Youth Voice.]

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