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‘Social or anti-social media?’ asks King Abdullah

Nov 06,2018 - Last updated at Nov 06,2018

In a new and progressive style of democratic engagement, unique to His Majesty King Abdullah, he again reached out to his fellow Jordanians in an article published last week, addressing the pressing issue of social media and the ways in which people are handling, or maybe mishandling, what he described as “the most profound change in the history of media and communications, and the way information is consumed, produced, spread and interacted with”, as diagnosed by King Abdullah in his article.

While emphasising the vitality of such tools for all people for providing “unprecedented opportunities to connect with each other, to express our opinions and exchange views, to come together around key and humanitarian causes and to highlight critical issues while building on them through constructive dialogue”, King Abdullah in the meantime, warned of prevailing abuse: attempts by some to “sow sedition”. And yet he is firmly certain that no force or agenda “can sway Jordanians from their commitment to protecting the homeland” and its inherited “deep-rooted values”.

Specifically, the Jordanian monarch must have been clearly and deeply incensed by irresponsible, senseless and hurtful comments recklessly shared on social media platforms with respect to the recent Dead Sea tragedy, in which many young schoolchildren were swept to their death by a sudden, storm-caused flashflood.

King Abdullah said such comments  “have been offensive to the memory of the children we have lost, which makes us question the basis of their relationship with society and the goals behind this negativity that has, unfortunately, robbed them of their humanity. We must also question who is behind these opinions that are far removed from the values of our society”.

But the King’s concern over the accelerating desecration of social media goes beyond the specific Dead Sea incident. He bitterly complains about “an overwhelming volume of hostility, libel and hatred” on “platforms [that] have almost become a place for slander and defamation… rife with hurtful comments and misinformation, and they almost lack any sense of moral or social responsibility, or adherence to the laws in place to deter and hold all offenders to account”.

King Abdullah's message could not be clearer. While he commends social media and the enormous value to human progress by the electronic revolution that is radically changing our lives, certainly for the better, he is at the same time demanding rules and regulation to prevent rising destructive exploitation.

Like many other marvelous inventions of the human mind, the communication revolution can be easily utilised for the exact opposite purposes. Anyone with minimum know-how can sit before a computer or any other electronic tool and invent false stories, smear people, spread dangerous rumours and cause panic and confusion.

While conventional media tools have resident addresses and known operators and, therefore, can be easily located and identified for accountability, electronic media can operate from anywhere, by anyone for whatever purpose, clandestinely and can reach anywhere in a matter of seconds and at no cost. Here lies the danger: A potentially loaded weapon that can fall in the wrong hands.

By no means is Jordan the only country to fall victim to the negative exploitation of social media; the phenomenon is widespread and steadily on the rise. Many countries are working hard towards introducing effective controls.

The Jordanian government is trying too. It is in the process of revising relevant legislation: The Cybercrimes Law is already under consideration in the Jordanian parliament in the hope that it will limit the damage, if not eliminate it altogether.

Although, according to the Jordanian Constitution, the King is the head of the executive authority and has all the power he needs to issue Royal Decrees to regulate matters where needed, he still prefers to engage his people in constructive dialogue in what can be described as a truly unique way of democratic practice.

Over the past few years, King Abdullah has issued seven Discussion Papers dealing with all matters relating to the rise of an advanced, progressive and democratic civil state. The papers, still debated in the media, the academia, civil society, schools and public forums, have addressed all pertinent issues. It is in the same spirit that King Abdullah shares his thoughts on paper with his larger Jordanian family and monitors their feedback and comments on the same social media tools that he specifically wrote about.

It is no wonder then that the high esteem in which His Majesty is held by Jordanians is not limited solely to his role as a great, wise and fully dedicated leader, but also to his recognition as a caring father figure from whom they can receive valuable guidance.

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