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Experts slam social media role in GCC crisis

Malek Helali
THE Middle East correspondent for Buzzfeed News, Borzou Daragahi on Monday lauded the coverage of the GCC crisis by the international media but criticised the role played by the social media on the issue.
Participating in the Qatar Media Industries Forum on International Media and the Blockade organised by Northwestern University Qatar (NUQ), Daragahi noted that international media behaved honourably in terms of its coverage of the GCC crisis.
He added that any bias in the coverage is a reflection of the core values that western journalists subscribe to in sympathising with the parties suffering from a clear injustice amidst any given conflict, such as the one being faced by Qatar at the hands of the Saudi-led bloc.
Daragahi, however, lashed out at the social media for playing a rather damaging role in the GCC crisis as it was weaponised by powerful players and served as a platform to influence campaigns."While social media was helpful for journalists, it did more damage than good to ordinary people", he said.
Daragahi noted that technology platforms and governments share a responsibility for combatting the spread of fake news.
Foreign correspondent for TIME magazine Vivienne Walt said that the issue of fake news is a complex and urgent problem, citing the GCC crisis where,"What started as fake news ended in a regional crisis."
Walt added, however, that fake news may be a distorted concept as in the case of US President Donald Trump, for whom all news that he disagrees with is 'fake news'.
She also praised the role of social media as an empowerment tool for western journalists in traditional media that often undergoes financial pressure limiting the outreach to public opinion in distant regions such as the GCC in this case. She noted that social media can be used as a medium to reach people and hear their ideas as primary sources.
Robb Wood, director of Strategic Partnerships at NUQ, presented a quantitative assessment of the international coverage of the blockade in the UAE, UK, and US. The statistics presented show that there has been a spike in English articles related to Qatar during the blockade in all markets. In the UK, Qatar-related articles are associated with the terms 'Turkey', 'FIFA', and 'Terror'.
In the US and UAE, the terms 'Trump' and 'Terror' were often associated with articles on Qatar. Wood pointed out that the term 'Hajj' (pilgrimage) emerged in the UAE and UK coverage related to Qatar during the Holy Month of Ramadan.
"Social media platforms played a huge role in shaping the GCC crisis as social media armies emerged from the blockading countries spreading hate speech against Qatar in an ethical decline that came as a surprise to us", said Faisal Abdulhameed al Mudhahka, editor in chief of Gulf Times.
Mudhahka described the blockading countries' reporting of the crisis as"a joke, a failure, and an embarrassment for media in general", highlighting the great amount of fake news reports they published throughout the crisis.