Today’s modern use of social media is an interactive tool that can do as much good and as much ill as required. Social media has offered men and women of all ages across the globe a stage to have their voice heard when exposing discrepancies or impartiality in cases of government or repressive regimes. At the beginning of 2009 there were an estimated 450million English language blogs across the globe with almost 600million blogs if all languages were considered. Word Press has in excess of 62million sites across the globe where 387million people view 3.6billion pages of 39.3million new posts and 41.4million new comments every month. With 66% of all blogs being in English there is a potential to reach millions across the globe.
The rise of political blogs in the early 1990s has been active in shaping voter behaviour and leadership at a global level. Blogs offer the opportunity to private businesses and individuals to speak about what they know best. Businesses tend to use this platform to promote services or encourage the reader to change their habits whilst individuals tend to use them to discuss personal dilemmas, experiences or to “voice-off” about issues affecting them in their home countries. So effective is blogging that people now communicate across the globe about political issues and in fact were the driving force during the Arab spring and internal disturbances and upheavals in the MENA region. Anything sent out online is in real time with news traveling across the globe through social media or blogs. The added value of blogging is the fact that writers are not restricted to the number of characters and can send out lengthy explanations to further convince their readers. “Global voices” is one prominent international blogging community that meets regularly in different parts of the world – some of the writers are not necessarily “activists” but people who believe they have something to say. On the down side of cyber communication is that if something is repeated often enough, people may actually start believing misinformation. Any attempt to rectify errors in mainstream media is virtually impossible as it is in short – too late.
Cyber communication has made the lives of PR people highly vulnerable especially when dealing with government or political parties as the publicists themselves must follow a protocol before publishing statements. Bloggers on the other hand basically have freedom to write whatever they want and once published online, an article will travel to their trusted groups half way across the globe or to friends and allies and by the time a reaction is received, it is easily ignored or overlooked or may appear to lack substance.
There is no feasible solution to this problem as people have the tendency to be partial and loyalty can be bought or coerced. Bahrain has faced challenges from social media, which has been quicker than official responses, and the planning of cyber communicators has been so efficient that proving the truth has become the biggest challenge of all for the government and the vast majority. Most of the people in Bahrain were certainly not prepared for February 2011 and when the vicious accusations flew across the world at light speed, many who were witnesses became cyber defenders of Bahrain.
Many took matters into their own hands and fought back to spread factual news in the hope that their voices would be heard. Authorities were not swift enough and the groups condemning Bahrain had videos, photographs and articles being spread through their network – no one could keep up. Whilst Bahrain was busy distributing awards for social media accounts and making the essence of cyber communication bureaucratic and competitive, the opposition or political groups busied themselves working day and night to ensure that every viewable source of media was flooded with their horrendously untrue messages. Their planning was commendable and unfortunately the world actually began to believe fabrication because the truth appeared insignificant against the fireball of deceit. As one of the master bloggers said “in social media what works is crowd sourcing”. Quantity was the key at this time not quality.
The Blogger Master Planners in Bahrain were not new to cyber communication and they had made plans way back in the 1990s with the support of external enemies of the state. Groups of innocent men and women from all walks of life were recruited to meet and discuss “blogging”. These people were slowly manipulated and radicalized thus creating a bigger nuisance years later. The bloggers from the GCC would have “BlogFests” to meet and the planners’ messages were slowly but systematically seeping through into the hearts and minds of their followers. It was a process that did not happen over night and whatever grievances there were in the country were being exaggerated at these meetings and the required bias was forming. Human Nature dictates that no one does anything without something in return – the simple reason being that one cannot live on loyalty and fresh air. So, the meetings offered incentives and these were considered a bonus, which was an appreciated source of income, and the members believed more and more. The bloggers learned, how to blog and how to share news with millions across the globe. The US Embassy recruited young students from the University of Bahrain (such as Maryam Al Khawaja, Mattar Mattar and many more) and sent them to America for social media and media training – this was highly effective as can be seen during their interaction with media officials. During an interview with Sawsan AlShaer, a US Embassy Official, Stephanie Williams admitted that these students amongst others were enlisted for such programmes.
Officials in cyber crime did not keep up and whilst these groups became strongly connected with one another, fanatical regimes with ulterior motives infiltrated the information hungry youth through the master planners and sold them an illusion. One only has to look back at some of the blogs and the first signs of trouble are obvious – the blogs have history and information that the masses that were defending were still researching. These cyber criminals already had multiple active YouTube, Twitter, FaceBook, Skype and other accounts to disseminate misinformation to all media channels at an incredible pace. More importantly what went unnoticed is that some of the same bloggers were placed across the globe in countries like Canada, USA, UK, Pakistan and even graduates from Pune University (allegedly owned or financed by Isa Qassim) in India to name a few. These strategically placed “activists’ some of whom who live under cruel regimes, continue to condemn Bahrain’s leadership and security actions – but never their own country or the country they are stationed in.
What is the future? Bahrain has to work together as one to identify and expose falsified information and internal competitiveness minimized – this is the job of people and the authorities. People should be aware of online deviant planning that is carried by these master planners against Bahrain. The cyber media war is far from over and with technological advances that have not slowed down but in fact got faster, people need to keep up. Blocking sites just make them more popular and as one infamous blogger said “it just showed people how to bypass the block and made it more popular”.
There will always be enemies living within the camp who cannot be eliminated, but people in Bahrain must not ignore the signs or signals. Anyone who stood against Bahrain or sat on the fence at a critical time is someone that should always be considered a potential threat in the future – that fact cannot be overlooked. Disparity is all over the world, but is it enough to warrant a coup d’état – the answer should explicitly be NO!