How Enhancing Digital Trust and Privacy Protection Can Support a New Arab Spring

The heightened interest in greater digital privacy protection is not just an American phenomenon; there may be a different type of progressive movement emerging in the Arab Middle East. Although the Arab Spring protests of 2010-2012 may now seem like a moment in time, any new comparable movement will need to account for increased anxiety over digital trust in social media and eroding confidence in government regulation to address digital privacy concerns.

Northwestern University in Qatar is one of six American universities that have been operating degree programs in Doha’s Education City for more than a decade. Since 2013, a research team there has conducted a landmark annual survey of seven countries—Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Lebanon. This region is now back in the global headlines after the successful U.S. drone strike in Iraq of Iranian Major General Qassim Suleimani, particularly regarding what level of geopolitical destabilization in the region may follow.

Unlike the Arab Spring that began nearly a decade ago, when social media in the region was instrumental as a mobilization tool but still in its infancy, there now are social media influencers in these countries that can enhance citizen mobilization efforts. This is significant because these influencers can supplement, and in some cases, displace, the tightly-held news media controls that are prevalent in the Arab Middle East. This development can be helpful to the United States as it seeks a more direct link to nationals in these countries who otherwise might be inundated with anti-American reporting by state-controlled mass media.

 

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