Countering Terrorism Within Social Media Platforms in GCC

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Since the inception of digital revolution, communication has been made easier among people in different geographical locations. More specifically, the advent of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp has changed the way that people interact. Communication has been made more swift and easy. Although social media has been instrumental in the transformation of communication especially among the youth, it has, nevertheless brought about a wealth of bad things. Specifically, social media has been used by terror groups to spread rumors and hate speech, which is meant to bring disunity among people. Additionally, social media has been used to spread propaganda and conspiracy theories.

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Despite all this, some groups have used social media to counter terrorism by encouraging peaceful coexistence with others. This has largely led to the relative peace that is experienced in some regions of GCC. The following is an interview transcription with a local Emirati woman named Aisha from Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. This interview is meant to gauge her awareness level in the use of social media to counter terrorism. The interview is conducted in a reserved hotel in Abu Dhabi where there is minimal noise and interference.

Me: Thank you very much Aisha for making time for this interview. My name is and I am honored to be your host in this interview. The aim of this interview is to get your views on how social media platforms have helped in countering terrorism. Once again, thank you and welcome.

Aisha: You are welcome. I feel honored to be your choice for this interview. The pleasure is all mine.

Me: This place looks great. What do you usually do during your free time Aisha?

Aisha: Just relaxing. Visiting friends and sometimes exploring this big city.

Me: Okay. This city looks wonderful. Staying here must be very pleasurable.

Aisha: Of course it is. However, you get used to the places and you wish you could go to somewhere else.

Me: Great.

Me: So Aisha, I have six set of questions that I will need your responses on. I hope you have no problem answering all of them.

Aisha: Not at all. However, I feel a bit insecure talking about anything to do with terrorism. How can I be sure that you are not an informer who wants to get me to the authorities or even the terror groups?

Me: Aisha, my interview is purely educational and for analysis only. I assure you that I will take your responses in confidence and will not expose your details to anybody who can compromise your well-being.

Me: Do you want to take something to make you relax? May be a drink or something else

Aisha: No. I am okay. I had just taken a drink a few minutes ago. Thank you anyway.

Me: It is okay.

Aisha: All right. We can start straight away.

Me: Aisha, I am going to put the questions to you. Kindly provide your responses honestly as this interview will be useful in making inferences.

Aisha: I will do my best. You do not need to worry about that.

Me: Do you have a social media account?

Aisha: Yes. I actually have several accounts.

Me: Could you please identify them (social media account such as Face book, Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube or any other)

Aisha: I actually use all those social platforms.

Me: Which one do you mostly use?

Aisha: Most of the times I use WhatsApp and Facebook. I also use Twitter but as frequent as I do with the other two.

Me: How regularly do you use these social media accounts?

Aisha: Daily. In the case of WhatsApp and Facebook, I access them via my mobile phone. As such, I can access information in face book and WhatsApp any time I want to. Concerning YouTube, I mostly use it while at school in the computer laboratory.

Me: Well said Aisha. How popular is social media among your friends and family?

Aisha: It is very popular. Actually, we often communicate through social media. In this regard, we have a variety of WhatsApp groups where we discuss issues of common interest with my friends. In my family, most of my family members own Smart phones, so they are also on social media.

Me: That is wonderful! You must be a digital family.

Aisha: Oh no! You are exaggerating. That is how the world is today.

Me. I totally agree. What type of content do you normally post, view, or comment to on your social media platforms?

Aisha: We post a lot of stuff. You know that some people are just crazy; they will post annoying and demoralizing stuff. However, I choose what to comment and what not to.

Me: What do you mean by demoralizing and crazy stuff?

Aisha: people will post weird images. Others, messages of hate speech. Even others will post a lot of rumors and propaganda without them ascertaining the veracity of the information.

Me: Okay. I understand. Do you always examine the information or pictures you post on the social media account?

Aisha: Of course I do. I do not just post stuff without thinking of their effect on other people. I post information that is accurate and that promotes peace and not violence. but I cannot say the same about others.

Me: That is so good of you. So then Aisha did you receive messages/information expressing hate, racism or extremism. How do you react?

Aisha: Yeah. This happens very frequently. However, my attitude towards such messages has always been the same; to criticize the senders of the same and treat the messages with the contempt that they deserve. However, you cannot stop people from posting stuff. However, you can question their motive and eventually help them change.

Me: I like your attitude Aisha. For the short time that we have interacted, I must admit that you are very impressive and rational.

Aisha: Cummon! You make me feel like an angel who does not make mistakes! Anyway, I just try to promote peace and coexistence with my friends and peers. I hate violence especially if it is based on religious differences.

Me: You are very impressive Aisha. This is now the end of the first section of the six set of questions Aisha. Can we go to the second one or you need a short break?

Aisha: Of course not. Let us go on.

Me: I must admit that now you look relaxed Aisha. The tension is now gone.

Aisha: Is that so? I hope you are not exaggerating Anyway, there was some tension at the beginning of the interview but now it is no longer.

Me: That is good for both of us because we can talk freely.

Aisha: I cannot agree more.

Me: What is your opinion about the presentation of terrorist attacks news within social media platforms?

Aisha: I have no problem with people reporting about terrorism attacks. However, I have an issue with those who distort this information and use it to spread hate and violence among different opposing groups. It is okay to post information if one obtains the information from an authentic source.

Me: All right. How do people in social media talk about terrorist attacks like Kuwait mosque bombing by ISIS or the bombing of Shia mosque in KSA?

Aisha: Every person gets affected by this information. However, there are those who condemn such acts while there others who try to justify the activities of the terror groups. It is very unfortunate because this causes many tensions among the opposing sides.

Me: How do majority of your friends say after such kinds of attacks?

Aisha: They condemn it because they know that terror has no religion. Actually, most of my friends get very affected by such terror activities.

Me: So sad. Do terrorist related contents talk about conspiracy theory?

Aisha: Yeah. Most of those contents try to justify why an attack occurred. However, nothing can be far from the truth; taking a persons life so brutally is very inhumane and unjustifiable.

Me: You seem affected by that. Anyway, this is the end of the second section of our questions. I think you need a cup of water

Aisha: Of course, I can take some water. Thank you.

Me: Now, we transit to section three of the set of questions Aisha. Hope you are ready for this.

Aisha: Of course I am. I am at your service.

Me: Do you believe that influential/ popular social media actors can play a role in preventing the spread of terror messages?

Aisha: If popular social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp are used responsibly, they can definitely prevent the spread of terror messages. However, the problem is that they are being used to do the opposite- to spread terror and hate among people. This is very unfortunate for our country.

Me: Okay. What do you think is the right approach for social media actors to launch effective counterterrorism on social media platforms?

Aisha: I think it starts with us. We should all understand the importance of stopping terror and promoting peace. However, if we do not understand this and appreciate it, we would not be able to stop terror. I propose that all social media platforms be monitored and those spreading terror messages be held accountable. Additionally, people should be educated on the importance of countering terrorism. This way they can launch effective campaigns in social media.

Me: Can you identify one action that you have done to prevent the spread of terror propaganda in one of social media platform

Aisha: I must admit that I have not done much to counter terrorism in social media. However, I usually condemn the activities of terror groups and urge my friends to be peaceful.

Me: That is something worthwhile. Do not underestimate what you have done.

Aisha: Thank you. It is the least I could do.

Me: Can you explain what encouraged you to do such action?

Aisha: The suffering that people get out of terrorism was my drive and passion. Additionally, I realized the agenda of terror groups is to rob us of our peace and promote hate among our neighbors and friends.

Me: Could you list examples of influential/ popular social media actors within the GCC that play a role in fighting terrorism within social media

Aisha: There are a number of those. Take for instance Sheikh Mohamed Ibn Rashid Al-Maktoum of Dubai, who advocates for zero tolerance to terrorism.

Me: Do some social media actors have a greater role in countering terrorism within social media platforms within the GCC than others?

Aisha: Definitely. Some are very influential than others. As a result, what they stand for might be very influential to their fans. Their fans are inclined to follow their messages and take them seriously.

Me: What should social media actors within GCC do to counter terrorism within social media platforms?

Aisha: Social media actors in GCC should have a common stand; a common thinking that terrorism has no religion and that it hurts us all. From there, they can use their following to spread messages of peace and coexistence among people. They should encourage people to be peace loving and shun those advocating for terrorism.

Me: Do you believe that the efforts or strategies of social media actors will help prevent terrorism in the GCC?

Aisha: Definitely, they will. You should note the influence that these actors have on their followers. Therefore, their message is taken very seriously. As such, by encouraging their followers to collectively shun terrorism will undoubtedly prevent terrorism not only in GCC but also in other parts of the world.

Me: Enough said Aisha. This is the end of the fourth section. We are almost through with our interview. Can we now move on to section five?

Aisha: Of course, right away.

Me: In your opinion what are the challenges that social media actors would face in their efforts to prevent terrorism within social media platforms in the GCC?

Aisha: There a lot challenges. For instance, they will be scorned and ridiculed by those spreading hate messages and propaganda. Additionally, there efforts will be watered down by others who advocate for terror. Therefore, this lack...

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