Tue 29 Sep 2020

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Mental desertification is creeping into social media sites 

Social media sites (expressive photography)

Social media sites (expressive photography)

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Enab Baladi- Saleh Malas

Last August, Syrian social media users circulated a video clip for the Kuwaiti writer of Iraqi origin, Najm Abdul Karim, talking about his opinion of the educated person. He said that “The educated person is the one who reduces the largest number of negatives and expands the circle of positivity. An educated person might be a carpenter, a worker…[…] etc. The educated person does not necessarily refer to a person, who speaks classical Arabic, knows Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and is familiar with Pablo Picasso’s Guernica […]. This kind of person can be described as a body of knowledge, but not an educated person. In fact, the person who does not contribute to lifting society out of backwardness, fanaticism, and sectarianism cannot be called erudite.”

In recent months Syrian people on Facebook and Arab websites have been discussing the views of some “people believed to be belonging to the intelligentsia in Syria” regarding events that have become popular in the Syrian milieu through social networking sites.

These opinions have received feedback that discussed the right of the “educated elite” to speak in the name of “The Syrian people” and its role in influencing public opinion.

Elites shape politics of society and State

Talal Mustafa, a Syrian social researcher, highlights to Enab Baladi that the elite class, in its general form,  is a group of people of more power, influence, skills, scientific, technical, and cultural potentials, compared to others of a similar type in one society.

The function of the elite class in society, especially in the third world countries, is to organize the components of society and change it for the better, which qualifies them to play the leadership role in political, economic, and cultural life, and their effectiveness is recognized, through the impact, they leave on the daily lives of individuals, Mustafa said.

Mustafa refers to the precise concept of intellectual elites, saying that people who exert a significantly greater influence in the areas of artistic and intellectual creation and production in their societies and all specialized intellectual fields (writers, researchers, writers, poets, thinkers, and media professionals).

“Intellectuals constitute a vast class of cultural workers, but the elite of them symbolizes the most distinguished, influential and present in the social and cultural life of society,” Mustafa said.

This means that the cultural elites, including great literary figures, writers, historians, poets, and artists, play a prominent and vital role in their intellectual and cognitive specializations in the various human sciences.

Mustafa believes that cultural and political elites play a growing role in setting the economic, social, political direction in a particular country, formulate the central policy of society and the State, make decisions in most cases by directing public opinion on a specific issue, and being able to come up with renewed ideas that can benefit the individuals in a way that is applicable and useful. These ideas must not be unrealistic, not to stay in the conceptual stage. Thus, these ideas will be more effective and influential.

“A desert of all kinds of elites.”

In the post-independence period in 1946 and until the “Baathist” coup in 1963, Syria was known, like other societies in the Middle East, for its elites of all specializations (political, cultural, economic, and legal). They used to exercise their activities and influence in Syrian society and all social activities.

Following the Baathist coup in 1963, the Syrian elites stopped playing their active role, according to Mustafa, as the ruling party in Syria tended towards the experience of socialist countries, especially the former Soviet Union.

The socialist countries do not believe in the existence of the elites in which the rule is chaired by the dictatorship of the proletariat (the working class), the class which represents the interests of the majority of the citizens.

However, this virtually has never been applied. On the ground, a group of all high concession holders, who seem to be from the higher frameworks of the party and the state, appeared. This group is independent of other social classes, far from their issues and problems, without a margin of freedom of expression. The socialist Baath has become the leading party of society and the State by the power of law, through the Syrian Constitution of 1973 in Article 8, which is inconsistent with the most basic democratic principles.

When Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, ruled Syria, Syria turned into a “desert of all kinds of elites,” according to Mustafa, which is supposed to frame citizens politically and in union and educate them intellectually and culturally, in order to make a real change in society.

The Syrian revolution in 2011 came to reveal the results of this “elitist desertification”, as the mainstay of the revolution was Syrians with modest political experience, who were not previously framed in political parties, Mustafa said. Therefore, it was easy for the Syrian regime to suppress some and direct others towards armed fundamentalist organizations far from the goals of the revolution.

Mustafa said that the intellectual, political, and social disintegration occurring in the Syrian street after nine years of the experience of the revolution in Syria is the best example of the absence of an intellectual elite that unites the Syrian people and charts for them a way to escape from their successive crises to build Syria as a state that keeps pace with modernity, law and human rights.

“Likes for sale”

This rift has moved from reality to social media platforms in the Syrian context. These technical means can be considered as popular media that includes all members of society, according to Mustafa.

Mustafa added that every time Syrians are preoccupied with a problem, the severity of this rift increases “without the presence” of an elite intellectual group to truly guide the individuals to an intellectual awareness away from writing posts that do not help in anything, but sometimes “pouring oil on the fire” for the sake of likes, shares, and comments, according to Mustafa.

It is worth mentioning that if a particular person on social media sites has a large number of followers, this does not mean that this person can be classified as a cultural elite. Sometimes a large number of followers can be a purely commercial business. There are dozens of companies that “sell illusions” through fake accounts of social media for pioneers of social media sites with the aim of drawing a false mental image for many as people of importance at the level. 

According to an investigation published by the “New York Times in 2018, there is a company “Divome,” which is one of the dozens of companies in the field of “selling the likes and fraudulent accounts of 200 thousand customers.”

The customer in these companies buys followers, likes, and shares to give a mental impression that this person is very influential and he is more vital than he is in fact, according to the investigation, and among those people are writer and TV producer Eric Kaplan, a friend of the US President, Donald Trump, in addition to the American actress Dirder Lovejoy, the British rowing champion James Cranle and Martha Lynn Fox, a board member of Twitter.

The company also has customers in North Africa and the Middle East, and customers pay about one cent for each follower. Still, some of them need additional services such as “likes”, “posts” and “comments”, and although Facebook and Twitter prohibit buying followers, this company sells them to whoever wants openly, by making “followers” from Russia or eastern countries.

 

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