I sat down today with Tantum (Teddy) Collins, Yale student and President of the Yale International Relations Association (YIRA) to discuss the role of new media in the protests that have swept across the Middle East. Having lived in many different countries throughout his life, including Jordan, Teddy’s perspective differs from firsthand views of native peoples from countries in the Middle East that have been featured on our blog. Specifically, in this interview, I explore the way Teddy’s opinions have been shaped in two unique ways: through his nonnative but firsthand perspective of Jordan, and through his extensive participation in international relations discussions through his leadership of YIRA. Ultimately, throughout the interview, Teddy argues that social media is critical and irreplaceable to moving discontented people to action, but should have less of a role post-revolution. Below are several video excerpts from our discussion.
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What’s remarkable to me is that Teddy purports in the following video that the language of Arabic itself shapes new media use in Jordan and further, that the use of colloquial Arabic on new media platforms has opened up the political conversation to all literate segments of the population versus only the elite and highly educated. I wonder if this makes new media use for political purposes in Jordan even more powerful given its comparative accessibility over traditional TV news media and newspaper articles. Do you agree with this inference?
In the below video, Teddy describes his firsthand accounts of a sudden shift of Facebook use for social networking purposes by his high school students to use of Facebook to express political outrage during and following the Gaza War of 2009. Interestingly, subsequently he ascribes the difference in use of new media tools for political purposes from the reaction during the Gaza events of 2009 to their use now to the fact that the country had a virtually unanimous opinion about the events in Gaza in 2009 whereas these more recent events have torn the country into populations that believe the protests are beneficial and populations who feel strongly otherwise.
In the final video excerpt from our discussion, below, I asked, what has been or should be the role of YIRA in cross-national discussions about the Middle East? Moreover, in general, what should international relations organizations do to facilitate online political discussions about the Middle East?
In response, Teddy points to Model UN conferences that bring students from throughout the world together in one place as the platform through which cross-national conversation about events in the Middle East take place amongst college students in international relations associations today. At a recent Model UN conference in Singapore, for example, the citizen mobilization taking place across the Middle East spontaneously became a major subject of conversation, with students from the Middle East sharing a uniquely informed perspective with the hundreds of other participants. Following these conferences, people that had met became Facebook friends and/or began to follow each other on Twitter. In this way, Teddy sees face-to-face contact as that which starts the cross-national conversations, while new media serves the important role of sustaining those relationships and conversations about the Middle East when the face-to-face contact, or the conference, comes to a close.