MULTIMEDIA FOR AN INCLUSIVE CYBERSPACE Before the information revolution, the world had experienced an agrarian revolution and an industrial revolution. Each of these revolutions featured change at a fast pace and high intensity. Inevitably, in such situations, people are bound to be overwhelmed and some may be left behind with the result that many people will suffer inequity.
In order to reduce the levels of inequity that may become manifest as a consequence of the information revolution, cyberspace being one of the most important products of the information revolution must be made as inclusive as possible. It must be made inclusive to the extent that people from any part of the world would be able to contribute to and benefit from cyberspace regardless of whether they are literate or illiterate, whether they speak written or unwritten language or whether they use signed languages.
The digital divide has emerged as one of the important metaphors that describe the levels of inequity in the information age. According to agreed Tunde Adegbola definition, the digital divide is “the gap between people with effective access to digital and information technology and those with very limited or no access at all. It includes the imbalance both in physical access to technology and the resources and skills needed to effectively participate as a digital citizen”.
Even though the above description of the digital divide accommodates a multiplicity of impediments to participation as digital citizens, there usually is a connotation of lack of physical access to technology whenever people talk about the digital divide. The impression is usually created that the digital divide is mainly due to a lack of physical access to digital and information technology in form of terminal equipment and bandwidth.
Important as the availability of terminal equipment and bandwidth may be, the thinking that lack of physical access to technology is the main issue in the digital divide is patently misleading. We do know that even if all technological impediments to participation as digital citizens were to be removed today, difficult cultural and linguistic impediments would still exist. Some of these impediments can be addressed by the use of multimedia as well as human language technology because they provide much wider scope for the communication of information.
Given that the information revolution is propelled by digital technology, it has the inbuilt capacity to ensure the level of inclusion that can help reduce most of the anticipated inequities. It however behoves us as humans to identify the needs and devise schemes to ensure the levels of inclusion that can combat the anticipated inequities.
2 http://www.africa4all-project.eu/index.php option=com_glossary Tunde Adegbola Tunde Adegbola ADEL EL ZAIM CYBERACTIVISM AND REGIONAL LANGUAGES IN THE ARAB SPRING The Web is not a piece of writing, it rewrites itself every day. Millions of people seize different and complementary tools for networking or on file-sharing platforms. What role do these technologies play in personal Web 2.0 pages How do they promote individual expression and collective intelligence What is the role of languages in this redeployment of digital links between human beings Between globalisation and protection of local languages, is it necessary to sacrifice local language to be heard by the global community Original article in English.
ADEL EL ZAIM is the Director of the international relations department at Sherbrooke University (Qubec, Canada) and the former director of the International Development Research Center (IDRC/CRDI, Canada), as well as and Project Manager for Connectivity Africa (Cairo). He has also been president of the Internet Society of Quebec (ISOC-Quebec).
010 and 2011 will go down in history as years of dramatic change in the Middle East and North Africa. But the “Arab Spring” didn’t 2start then ; rather, 2011 saw the culmination and success of revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt that had been attempted several times in the first years of the XXIst century. Revolts now continue in several countries ;
some have morphed into massacres (Syria), civil war and international intervention (Libya), or hidden repression (Bahrain).
If youth are largely credited for these Middle East uprisings’ success, they are having a similar impact across the continents. It’s a constant, from China, Burma and Iran, to Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt, to Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria in 2010-2011, not to mention in Spain, Greece, Senegal, and more recently the United States or Russia, that young people are at the front line. Revolt and repression continue to cost lives and ruin economies. In many countries, like in Senegal 1, the population is demonstrating against the corruption and/or the president’s plans for a neverending mandate.
The role of information and communication technologies (icts) and social media was brought up early on in Tunisia and Egypt. Researchers and journalists wondered if the uprisings should be called the “Digital Revolution” or “Revolution 2.0”. More serious questions were asked about their timing and location : why now, why in Tunisia, why in Egypt, what country would come next And how to use ict and youth ability to use them to reform a country, to create new political systems, new categories of politicians and political practices Dozens of books and studies about the revolution have been published in and about Tunisia and Egypt, investigating this new renaissance era 1 http://www.senrevolution.com Adel El Zaim and its reforms, impacts, benefits, history, and models. Cultural products, including songs, music, movies, and photos continue to be produced and proliferated worldwide.
But what of language The relationship between language and revolution is a broad domain that can be tackled from diverse perspectives. When I had the opportunity to witness the revolution in Egypt in spring 2011, I found myself particularly interested in the role of language in the events, specifically the use of language in Egyptian social media. I observed its use by protestors and political movements to communicate, mobilize, and organize activities, as well as to document and share key moments of repression, success and celebration. Based on my observations, I came to study the impact of the revolution on Arabic language presence on the web and in social media. I suggest that the revolutions in Arab countries have from their very beginnings precipitated a heightened production and use of online Arabic language content, particularly in the social media.
This content is produced by individuals, organizations and media, and is enhancing the rank of Arabic language online. While certain research corroborates my conclusions, much more remains to be done.
THE USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA IN ARAB COUNTRIES Social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, are among the most used internet tools in Arab countries. Facebook is such an effective mass communication device that it is seen as a threat, and has been consequently blocked and unblocked by the government several times in various countries from Tunisia to Syria during the last three to four years in an attempt to contain political and social dissent.
The first issue 2 of the Arab Social Media Report 3 showed over twentyone million Facebook users in the Arab world as of January 5, 2011. This number jumped to 27,711,503 users in the first quarter of 2011 a 30 % increase. Gulf Cooperation Council (gcc) countries dominate the top five Arab Facebook users in terms of percentage of population. Egypt constitutes about a quarter of total Facebook users in the Arab region, and added more users in the Q1-2011 than any other Arab country, closing at two million new users between January 5 and April 5 4.
Adel El Zaim Governments are capitalizing on the opportunity offered by this huge concentration of their citizens on Facebook to become more present in social media. Egypt and Tunisia are good examples of this : immediately following the revolts’ success in ousting the presidents, the new transitional governmental bodies reached out to Tunisians and Egyptians through Facebook. Despite each government already having sophisticated online presence, each ministry and national organization having its own web site, they created pages on Facebook and YouTube, and opened accounts on Twitter, to communicate their message and try to engage in discussion with their constituency, both those living at home and abroad.
Even the government of the United Arab Emirates (uae), which was not even facing a conflict at the time, felt the need to build a Facebook profile and presence to connect with the 45 % of its population linked to that network. The uae government is now encouraging its employees to use social media to interact with citizens. It has even offered trainings on responsible use and risks of Facebook, and offers documented policy guidelines for government bodies 5.
DIVERSE APPLICATIONS Given the demographics of Arab countries, where a full 30 % are youth age 19 to 25, and those countries’ political and economic situations, Facebook is “being used in a wide variety of ways : rally people around social causes and political campaigns, boost citizen journalism and civic participation, create a forum for debate and interaction between governments and their communities, or to enhance innovation and collaboration within government” 6.
However, the main use of Facebook was and remains that intended by its creators : social networking between individuals and groups of friends.
Despite censorship and blocking, Facebook persists as the networking tool par excellence for young people who want to communicate, meet, share hobbies and dreams, and endorse celebrities.
In the first quarter of 2011, the role of cyber-activism in the revolts on the streets triggered a dramatic change in the use and perception of Facebook in Arab countries. Blocking Facebook and the internet in Tunisia, Egypt, 5 Guides by the government of UAE in arabic http://www.emiratesegov.ae/web/guest/6 http://www.dsg.ae/portals/0/ASMR2.pdf page 1.
Adel El Zaim Libya, and Syria only gave these tools more credibility and impact, increasing their demand, and then their use.
In Egypt, since January 2011, YouTube and similar networks are used to document and share events, ranging from calls for meetings, to demonstrations, to attacks and massacres. In Syria, Libya, and Bahrain, dated videos have permitted protestors to prove the pacifist nature of their actions and the brutality of the authorities. Twitter provides a communication channel for rally notification, sos, quick instructions, and spreading and receiving news. The very structure of Twitter, whose short messages or “micro blog” entries are seamlessly integrated to mobile phones, make it a particularly able mass communication device.
The Arab social media report surveyed 126 people in Egypt and 105 from Tunisia regarding the main use of Facebook during the civil revolt. As represented in the figure below :
In both countries, Facebook users were of the opinion that Facebook had been used primarily to raise awareness within their countries about the ongoing civil movements (31 % in both Tunisia and Egypt), spread information to the world about the movements (33 % and 24 % in Tunisia and Egypt respectively), and organize activists and actions (22 % and 30 % in Tunisia and Egypt respectively). Less than 15 % in either country believed Facebook was primarily being used for entertainment or social reasons 7.
7 http://www.dsg.ae/portals/0/ASMR2.pdf, page 6.
Adel El Zaim THE LANGUAGE OF FACEBOOK Facebook offers its interface in dozens of languages, most of them localised by users themselves 8. Users in Arab countries surveyed for the Arab Social Media Report “vary in their preference of language interface” 9, the three main languages unsurprisingly being Arabic, French and English.
The survey showed net preference for English in Gulf countries, with the exclusion of Saudi Arabia, and net preference for French in the Maghreb countries and Comoros. Egypt and Tunisia are worth paying special attention to because of the changes over the course of the revolution. In terms of preference of language interface, users in Egypt split evenly between the use of Arabic (49.88 %) and English (48.98 %) interfaces (similar to Jordan, Libya and Iraq). Tunisian users showed a net preference for French interface (94.60 %), then English (2.72 %) and finally Arabic (1.56 %).
However, the interface language setting preference cannot necessarily be used to conclude what languages users are actually interacting in 10.
Thanks to html and Unicode, browsers are now able to display text in virtually all languages. “Facebookers practice a diversity [of languages that] challenges the conventional notions of multilingualism as a combination of two or more monolingualisms” 11.
A LOCAL LANGUAGE REVOLUTION It is not a surprise that language played an important role during the social and political uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, as well as in other countries of mena. Some slogans chanted by demonstrators became internationally known symbols and songs. “Ben Ali, dgage !” in Tunisia, or al-sh’ab yureed asqat al-nitham, (“the people want the regime to fall”), repeated in Tunis, Cairo, Damascus, Benghazi, and Sana’a, are intrinsically linked with the revolts. Signs held by protestors in Cairo were written mainly in Arabic, but also in English, French, and even Hebrew 12.
8 See in this book : Dwayne Bailey, Software Localization: Open Source as a Major Tool for Digital Multilingualism.
9 http://www.dsg.ae/portals/0/ASMR2.pdf, page 14.
10 As demonstrated in http://www.languageonthemove.com/language-globalization/multilingualism-2-0, blog posted on August 02, 2010 by Ingrid Piller.
12 See picture by glcarlstrom (Gregg Carlstrom) at http://yfrog.com/h3fbsbj translated as :
azov Mubarak - “leave, Mubarak”.
Adel El Zaim On the social media front, linguistic creativity was positively impacted by the uprising. Perhaps the need to reach out to a larger community about burning issues led people to use the local language, thereby increasing the quantity of Arabic content published online both on social media and regular web sites.
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