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Middle East social media leader visits Emerson

Associate Professor Gregory Payne, Hens Rizvi, Alexander Kaufman, Sultan Al-Qassemi, Peter Karl '10, Daniel Tick, Peter Hall '10, MA '11 at a Al-Qassemi’s talk on social media's influence in political communication and public diplomacy in the Middle East. He will return to Emerson in November.

Sultan al-Qassemi, a social media leader from the United Arab Emirates identified by Time as authoring one of the top Twitter feeds during the Arab Spring, spoke to Communication Studies students in associate professor Gregory Payne’s Communication Theory for Leading Change course on September 19.

During his two-hour visit, al-Qassemi discussed the importance of social media in empowering people at the grassroots level to question authority and demand change in the Middle East. Referring to his own historic role in reporting the events in Egypt to a global audience, al-Qassemi emphasized the importance of credibility and accuracy. 

He identified Twitter and Facebook as the crucial instruments that provided people who wanted change in their governments with the ability to communicate freely and openly. He also discussed the challenge such social media tools pose for authoritarian regimes.

“Social media helps level the playing field and makes it very difficult for governments resistant to change to control the communication,” said al-Qassemi.

A fellow at the Dubai School of Government and a columnist with the United Arab Emirates-based National, al-Qassemi tweeted live translations of communiqués from Egypt’s Tahrir Square and Yemeni dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh’s pulpit, according to Time. He has also passed along links that exposed the excesses of autocracy. One such report covered the banning of Saudi women from contributing to a newspaper.

“By his own count, at one point during the Arab Spring he was tweeting a new update every 45 seconds,” said Time. “During the peak of the Egyptian uprising, he even managed to keep his followers updated on the protests while attending a wedding.”

Al-Qassemi “re-emphasized the importance of the credibility of the source regardless of the media one is using, and it was a pleasure to meet this change agent at Emerson,” graduate student Kaitlin Barnes said.

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