Caline Malek, The National
Stengel image from article
ABU DHABI // Young Arabs can use social media to fight violent extremism, a leading US diplomat says.
Richard Stengel, undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs who is on his third visit to the UAE, told students at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi that their digital voice could be used to shape the future of the UAE and the region.
“There is nothing intrinsically good or bad about it [social media] but I think the benefits outweigh [the cons]," Mr Stengel said during his lecture on global public diplomacy and the role of social media. “But then you look at Daesh and its twisted vision of Islam and I think social media for the Arab world can be transformational."
He said extremism could be drowned if the values of moderation, tolerance and understanding were shared on social media. “The volume of counter-Daesh messages has increased six to seven times on the web," Mr Stengel said. “Social media makes everybody a public diplomat."
He described social media as a tool of self-expression for those who did not have an avenue for it or an audience.
“Everybody can find their audience, and I think it’s great, especially for societies evolving in a progressive way, because it will help sustain the diversity of society and the idea of critical thinking which, in the modern world, every society needs to value," he said.
There was a key to opposing ISIL’s social media propaganda, he said. “Critical thinking is the enemy of extremism. I think how you use social media in the Middle East and the UAE is something that will benefit society. All of your voices are the most important voices against violent extremism, much more than mine or anyone in the government because violent extremism will only end when the voices of regular people and the voices of sanity drown it out and the medium of that is social media."
Last November, the UAE launched the social media campaign Sawab Centre, jointly run by the Emirates and the US, to counter extremist propaganda.
Afra Al Mutairi, a 20-year-old Emirati media student and president of the student council, said the lecture was beneficial to younger generations. “Social media plays a major role in our society and it can be used to make the world a better place."