Current data confirms that the Arab world in general, and Jordan in particular, need to embrace young people and the new generation, and involve them in decision-making through various tools that would contribute to their direct integration into public life, in addition to working with them as much as needed to optimize their potential.
This result is based on the political, social, and economic realities expressed by young people through social media platforms, the press, and various media outlets. The open spaces of social networks have become the tool of choice for this generation to take part in their reality, express it, and interact with it – a reality that is no different all over the Arab world, albeit hidden behind different facades.
Within these contexts, and in order to understand the attitudes of young people in changing and expanding the space for meaningful expression through social networking, Al Nahda Arab Cultural Forum at the Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD) held a workshop entitled: “Youth, Content Creators, and Public Life: Motivations, Challenges, and Alternatives”, which took place on Monday, January 30, 2023, and included journalists, media professionals, writers, activists, digital content creators, and experts in the fields of media and social networking.
Basil Al Tarawneh, head of Al Nahda Forum, stressed the need to provide the youth sector and users of social media platforms with the right foundations, as well as moral and human values, pointing out that the new generation has come to play a pivotal and significant role in the digital content industry and in expressing our issues in the Arab world.
The first session was moderated by Dr. Marwan Shehadeh, a researcher specialized in communication and media sciences. During the session, Editor-in-Chief of Al-Ghad newspaper Makram Al-Tarawneh, and journalist and human rights activist Nadine Al-Nimri spoke about the motives, challenges, and alternatives facing young people, the content creation industry, and traditional journalism. Shehadeh cited the spread of citizen journalism as the most important characteristic of our time, as it managed to bring into the limelight many a social figure who are actually active and influential on the ground.
In regard to mixing concepts between communication tools and the content of events, Al-Nimri said that professional content remains constant as it is evidence-based, while the tools change with time, stressing our need to build the capabilities of social media pioneers in order to bring about change. She also deemed it important that people adopt public issues and promote meaningful citizenship, which requires believing in the importance of their participation, as well as access to information and the required relative content, which is matched by the existence of meaningful and influential content.
In his review of the current status of traditional media, Al-Tarawneh highlighted several obstacles that are hindering the development of media and print newspapers as tools of change, especially the lack of transparency in official statements about events, and the difficulty of accessing information, which poses a challenge to analysis and impact, in addition to the lack of sufficient funding for operational costs to keep up with the current changes and developments. Al-Tarawneh saw that, if not based on accurate information, the outlets used by the new generation would contribute to propagating ignorance rather than knowledge.
The second session was moderated by human rights journalist Rawan Al-Jayyousi, featuring speeches by the founder of the Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists, Nidal Mansour, writer and activist Abdul Majeed Al-Majali, and activist Sanad Nawwar. The session explored the issue of “Electronic Content: Ambition and Limitations,” as well as what is accepted and required in the cyberspace.
In turn, Al-Jayoussi posed the following questions: “Why do we write? Why do we engage? And where is the space available in the world of algorithms, which is now imposing its own limitations? Has getting the biggest number of “likes” become the main concern for activists at the expense of quality and meaningful content?
In response to Al-Jayyousi’s questions, Mansour said that social media has given people tools to express themselves and their concerns, regardless of the manner and style of that expression, noting that technological transitions have made the impossible possible, and that social networking platforms helped us reach the freedom and ability to express ourselves that we’ve always aspired to achieve, hence, they must be protected and made available to all different points of view.
As for the activists’ influence on decisions, Al-Majali said: “We do not influence the decisions we want, but the decisions that people want,” stressing that there is a “big gap” between the voice of the street and the decision-makers, which is largely due to the latter’s failure to listen earnestly to young people’s problems, ambitions, and ideas.
In the same vein, activist Nawwar saw that young people have the “enthusiasm” for change, but they lack a lot of the tools and spaces necessary for that, stressing that we have a problem when it comes to concepts and the attempts to interpret them loosely, such as hate speech, considering it a no lesser restriction than the other laws limiting the freedom of expression.
Today, and with the existence of different types of content creation, be that scientific, entertainment or even critical content, and between the struggle, advocacy, disregard, and ridicule, who can be the judge of it? Young people find it imperative to focus more on joint and collective action that would protect the new generation and help them advance towards their future, as well as encouraging analytical interaction and brainstorming through cultural dialogue, and attracting content creators to political and civic participation by joining parties and engaging in public life.
According to their vision, the alternatives are limited by the absence of party work, so it is important that civil society institutions be attractive for content creators and supportive of them. It is also necessary to find a platform that has the ability to influence and build confidence between young people and the government, in addition to promoting the concept of pluralism in society in order to raise the ceiling for freedoms, not to mention the importance of investing the potential of the new, young generations, and empowering them with the tools to develop themselves in order to realize their ambitions.
This workshop, which included two dialogue sessions, is part of the New Generation project, whose main objective is to strengthen cooperation between youth organizations, as well as highlighting the importance of collective action for influencing positive change and making a tangible difference in our societies.