SARNGA DHARAN NAMBIAR –
Who doesn’t like an alter-ego? People with dual personalities are found in literature from the 1800s onwards. Even kids relate to the phenomenon as they watch the exploits of Peter Parker and Clark Kent. The thrill is indeed awesome. Nowadays, we don’t need any extraterrestrial super power to ‘create’ our alter ego; just a social media account will do the trick.
And then these digital egos or clones of ours start working — day in, day out, analysing and commenting on personal, social, political and cultural issues whenever we feel indignant, excited, bored or something else. Our posts could be termed corny, hoary, ribald, smutty, vulgar, witty, intellectual or anywhere in between. It doesn’t matter much as long as the law of the land doesn’t find them disgusting and criminal; and if that happens we could be in real trouble.
With the number of active social media users in the Sultanate crossing 2.5 million, of whom as many as 1.9 million using mobile device based social media, the need for awareness campaigns on the “right” use of social media can’t be over emphasised.
The thrust of the Sultanate’s social media law is not about limiting a person’s freedom or ability to express their opinion, provided the opinion has an overall positive and constructive tone. What the law examines in deciding the acceptability of the opinion is its ethical implications and whether it assumes the form of a direct threat or attack against a private person, community, organisation or country.
Even the seemingly innocuous social media emojis can go wrong in their intent if one is not careful. One may not be even aware of a subtly abusive or threatening shade to an emoji, but if at all the other party feels so, the game changes at once. Use of emojis to harass or defame another person online is considered an offence in the Sultanate, and the sender is liable to be criminally prosecuted.
Such a legal side to the use of social media exists in other parts of the world as well. But that doesn’t in any way affect its growth. Globally, social media usage has logged a 9 per cent year on year growth (as of the beginning of the current year) with as many as 3.5 billion users. The growth rate is even more pronounced in the case of mobile device based social media accounts that have grown by over 10 per cent during the period.
The Middle East is no different. According to a report by Crowd Analyser, social media users in the Middle East and North Africa region use the online platform to actively discuss not just fashion, brands, businesses and services but even politics and religion also.
With cars and driving almost like a cultural craze, the automotive industry was the star segment on social media platforms last year in the region, the study shows. Even the much debated privacy issues related to the Facebook and the online bullying on Twitter haven’t dampened the spirits of social media users. That the recent entrant, the Chinese social media network Tik Tok, launched last year in the region could garner a sizable following says it all.
Then, what is it that attracts us to social media? The culprit, if one can use that term, could be the brain’s pleasure chemicals that get a high when we engage the social media to release our feelings. For instance, addictive pleasure chemicals such as dopamine and oxytocin are found to ignite the brain’s neurotransmitters when we are active on social media.
With all its negative connotations, however, social media is one of the most effective crisis communication tools, much more powerful than Ham Radio that proved to be of great help in times of distress when social media was in its infancy.
Further, when it comes to the marketing of tourism, there is simply no better tool than social media. In Oman, the social media account “Experience Oman” of the Ministry of Tourism, has been quite successful in meaningfully engaging with global tourists with its rich content about the natural and cultural highlights of the Sultanate.
Experience Oman — available in Arabic, English, French, Italian, German and Dutch, and on all social media channels including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter —captures the magical essence of the Sultanate with highly informative descriptions and real experiences of visitors making it one of the world’s best social media accounts dedicated to tourism, and on par with the hugely popular accounts such as the ‘Travel Alberta’ or ‘Visit SLO’.
Lately, the ministry has been exploring how effectively social media influencers can be used to promote the country’s tourism potential internationally, with special focus on diverse and spectacular events and activities, fulfilling destination experiences, amazing tourism seasons and the like.