Jordan Social media and social change opportunities and threats

Diana Ishaqat

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has great humanitarian responsibilities towards a war-torn region. Today it is also among the top refugee-hosting countries in the world; a shelter for Iraqis, Syrians, Somalis, Sudanese and others who seek safety from some of the deadliest and most complex conflicts in the world. Jordan’s diverse and expanding society aspires to become a prosperous one, with long-standing ties with western powers such as the United States and the United Kingdom, closely maintained partnerships with the European Union and a cabinet assigned especially to counter nepotism and corruption. Deliberately referred to as a regional entrepreneurship hub, over eight million of Jordan’s citizens (86.4%) (Jordan Internet Usage and Marketing Report n.d.) have access to the internet, and they produce more than half (“Production: great investment prospects” 2019) of the digital content available online in the Arabic language.

Jordanians use social media in a variety of ways, including participating in public issues, building social movements, refugee crisis and community support. Like other countries, Jordan also faces challenges of cyber harassment, false information, hate speech and extremist recruitment. This chapter identifies gaps and opportunities uncovered by the current programmes offered by organisations aiming at serving groups such as disadvantaged Jordanians and refugees. Overall, the country’s social media landscape reveals underlying societal tensions, collective concerns and hopes for progress, equity and stability.

Trending hashtags: the pulse of the public opinion?

“Hashtag activism” is the use of social media hashtags (#) to group digital content so that people can find others concerned about similar issues. Hashtag activism is often labelled as “slacktivism”—or a “lazy” form of activism. But in a region where a social media post could lead to a jail sentence (Beaumont 2016), joining a public conversation on Twitter, and especially becoming an internet- based activist, is not just a “convenient” alternative to more traditional forms of participation.

Twitter, Jordan’s third most popular (“Social Media Stats Jordan” n.d.) social media platform after Facebook and YouTube, offers a conversation space comparable to a type that had previously long vanished. In the late 1950s, the opposition (Schwedler 2015) forces grew powerful and came to be perceived as a threat strong enough for the regime existing then to order the termination of all political parties, impose strict measures against citizen assembly (thus putting an end to numerous public places which were hubs for informal gatherings too), followed by declaring martial law (“Jordanian Cancels Most Martial Law Rules” 1991) which stretched until the early 1990s, as a consequence of the Israeli victory in the 1967 war (Bowen 2017). These changes resulted in the avoidance of any platforms formerly used for discussing issues of public concern, such as cultural and political salons. This condition had started to dissolve relatively recently.

One of the most notable online campaigning efforts and trending hashtags in the last several years was on the proposed cybercrime law (Araz 2020). Activists believe it proposes vague and loose definitions of concepts such as online hate speech and defamation, creating conditions leading to the silencing and detention of private individuals and journalists. The conversation was active on the hashtag sЗЩЩ (withdraw the law of cybercrime) until late

2018, making a comeback in 2019 too. Unfortunately, despite the government reviewing the requests made to change the law, the supposedly “amended” (Samaro and Sayadi 2019) version, in response to the public protests, remains a source of concern for civil society activists.

Previously, local campaigning on social media platforms greatly contributed to the organising of the offline action taken against Article 308, which required the civil society and women’s rights groups to campaign for over a decade for it to be finally abolished in 2017 (“Jordanian Parliament abolishes law” 2017).

The article stated that male rapists could be freed from legal punishment if they were to marry their female victims for a minimum of three years. Following hashtags such as . л (end 308), users were able to stay updated on the Jordanian parliament’s decision as it looked into the proposals delivered by the civil society' for scrapping the law and stay informed of events and demonstrations that were a part of the national campaign. In the same year, Lebanon (“Lebanon rape law” 2017) and Tunisia (“Tunisia passes landmark law” 2017) also abolished laws of identical content.

 
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