Al Jazeera Centre for Studies and the Department of Mass Communications at Qatar University held a joint press conference on Wednesday, 15 February 2023, to announce the details of their upcoming conference, “Social Media Networks and Ideological Polarization: Power Relations and Socio-Cultural Impact,” set to take place at Ibn Khaldoon Hall at Qatar University on 1 and 2 March 2023 with the participation of a select group of researchers, academics and experts.
Dr. Basyouni Hamada, Head of the Department, presented the objectives of the conference and the motives behind it, explaining that “this is an academic conference that seeks to examine the effect of social media networks on the formation and trends of public opinion, especially after it has become apparent in users’ trends.” He added that speakers in the conference will delve into the mechanisms of this effect and investigate its persuasive and emotional tools and methods in order to create an awareness of the agendas of regional and international powers as well as interest groups that use social media networks in their political and economic conflicts.
Dr. Hamada also mentioned that diversity was taken into account in the selection of speakers to ensure the enrichment of the topics that will be discussed over the duration of the conference, stating “among the invitees are 10 global researchers that have extensive experience in new media studies and the effects of social media.”
For his part, Dr. Mohammed Erraji, Head of the Media Studies Programme at Al Jazeera Centre for Studies, said that many social media outlets create a discourse that serves the political and economic powers that control them, and that the objectives of the conference are to explore this relationship, unravel its dimensions and make the audience aware of them.
In his presentation, Dr. Ezzeddine Abdelmoula, Manager of Research at Al Jazeera Centre for Studies, added that the conference is an opportunity to think about our relationship with social media, which each of us imagines that he or she is navigating freely when in reality there are others working behind the scene to direct public opinion in a way that serves their agendas and political and economic interests and supports their intellectual ideologies.
Additionally, in a press release issued by the two organising parties, it was announced that the first day of the conference will be dedicated to the discussion of the international balance of power and its implications for the structures and tools of social media networks. Thus, it will address the ability of these networks to create reality, and their role in the conflict of narratives dominating public opinion. Similarly, the involvement of social media networks in the domestic affairs of states and “audience engineering” using algorithms and artificial intelligence will be brought to light.
The press release also mentions that the conference will look into the economic interests and cultural wars that weaponize social media, the monopoly of information technology companies of these networks, and the impact of this monopoly on the news industry. It will also look into the commercial exploitation of users’ data and review the role of social media networks in intensifying hate speech and ideological polarisation, and the political and cultural effects of that.
On the second day, the conference – according to the press release – will touch on the legislations regulating the use of social media networks and the means of reinforcing the ethics of their use. It will also dedicate a space to the discussion of the state of social media networks in the Arab world, examining the reality and challenges of Arabic platforms, and the means of their development to promote competition with international platforms as well as the ability of these networks to support liberties, human rights and the protection of activists.