RIYADH: The ships seized by Israeli armed forces en route to Gaza have made headline news these past weeks. Much of the coverage has focused on the ships from the flotillas that were unsuccessful in their attempts to deliver aid to Gaza. However, in a weird twist, it is #Flotilla — a widely read collection of updates on Twitter posted by people following the events on the real flotillas — that has been successful in delivering “aid” for Gaza, in the form of information.
This Twitter stream has revolutionized the flow of information surrounding this event — from government- and mainstream media-owned content to stories from people around the world with diverse perspectives and thoughts on the situation.
Through #Flotilla, YouTube clips, eyewitness accounts and interviews with deported flotilla activists are being streamed to viewers around the world. This response to the recent violence at sea has highlighted a strong need for the free flow of information from people on the ground with diverse, even competing, perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Indeed, when information to the global public flows freely, it has the potential to create real, practical policy changes for the better, not only when it comes to Gaza and Israel — as we have seen with Israel’s internal conversation about lifting the blockade — but to any of the conflicts and crises the world faces on a near daily basis.
With the advent of recent technologies, communication has “gone global”. However, people tend to tune into sources of information that they relate to, produced by members of their own community, political party or faith group. This often leads to acquiring a fragmented, one-sided view of the facts, which leaves people vulnerable to serving the forces of conflict instead of spearheading viable resolutions.
But the reports coming from off the coast of Gaza present an example of “global communication” at its best. Not only are there diverse sources of information reporting on the encounter between the aid ships and the Israeli armed forces, but sources with different views on the conflict are appearing side-by-side on Twitter, providing as coherent a story as possible.
There are various instances in the Middle East in recent years that have highlighted the impact of effective information sharing on government policy. For example, in 2004 as a result of social gatherings, web forums and international media, the Saudi government decided to release intellectuals who had been imprisoned after signing a petition for political reform.
If not for the diversity of the signatories involved — they hailed from many ideological, sectarian and political community groups — it would have been easy for specific interest groups to shape public opinion, claiming that the call for reform was an attempt by a minority group to disrupt the security of the nation or “Westernize” Saudi Arabia. Instead, the arrests were reported in a wide array of media outlets with differing political and ideological leanings, reflecting the diversity of the group of signatories and reaching audiences that might otherwise be suspect of similar calls for reform.
On the flipside, in instances where information is controlled and/or does not come from the people involved in a particular story, it can present a picture that distorts the truth.
For example, last April, French President Nicolas Sarkozy praised Tunisia’s president for his strides in advancing human liberties. Sarkozy’s comment was made while the editor and managing director of Al Mawqaf were on hunger strike to protest what they believed to be government control over media. Journalist Taoufik Ben Brik was serving his fifth month in prison under politically motivated charges at the time, and Amnesty International had pointed out that corruption and political repression continues to thrive in Tunisia.
Without forums for Tunisians with views that differ from Sarkozy’s to speak out to audiences that would generally be inclined to accept the French President’s statements with confidence, rather than seeking out alternative views, many facts remain untold and the status quo continues.
What these examples make clear is that platforms for the free flow of diverse perspectives on all conflicts, like #Flotilla, that reach individuals who tend to traditionally only consume news that supports their existing views is necessary to empower the public. People can then make educated decisions and influence decision-makers to transparently uphold human rights for all citizens of our shared world.
Aysha Alkusayer is a Saudi Arabian screenwriter and blogger. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).