Appealing to Social Media!
There are extensive debates on how contributing to Arab spring revolutions social media were (YouTube, Twitter and Facebook more precisely). Syrians adopted social media since the very beginning of the Syrian revolution in March 2011. Social media is powerful. We know that, the questions now is how much powerful it is? Syrians opt to social media in their struggle for their freedom and justice. Apparently they had learned a lot. Here is a story that took place few days ago.
A recent rejection of a friend of mine visa application to UK made her cry! Rush not too much to make judgments, crying was a manifestation of over injustice events she as many Syrians have been experiencing for the past three years and nine months. But that is not all, although the visa rejection was hefty weight that made her break for few minutes the story started from that crash. Caroline made a brief phone call to her friend in UK, and wrote an email to the university inviting her to speak about media in Exile explaining her visa was rejected. As a Syrian woman who managed to establish and sustain along with her co-founders a radio station for the third year, right after she was released from her detention at Assad regime prisons, Caroline was invited to speak out about her experience. Before this visa rejection non of the visas she applied to throughout her life were rejected. She travelled to more than fifty cities around the world from India to Canada and from Portugal to Hong Kong. She is a resident in France, and she is operating an NGO registered there, beside her job as a project manager for SouriaLi, the radio station she co-founded. She had a valid visa on her passport to USA and in fact she was in South Africa, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Switzerland and USA only in the past year. More over, having a residency card in France does not permit her to apply for a refugee status in UK even if she opt to. I forgot to tell you she is perusing her masters degree in humanitarian action and law. But the rejection arrived with the following statement “ I am therefore not satisfied that you are genuinely seeking entry as a business visitor for the limited period stated by you, hat you intend to leave the united kingdom at the end of your visit. Paragraph 46G (i)(ii)” then the decision comes “I have therefor refused your application….” The reasons were two: she doesn’t have enough family ties nor assets in France!!
Seriously?! Well, first of all she was not going for a business trip, she was invited by a reputable university called University of Central Lancashire. Secondly, I don’t recall by chance that someone leaving his country out of fear one week behind detention in one of the most well known frightful prisons in the would have the luxury to transfer her family in a bag and buy one or two houses in France upon arrival. But anyways, the reply was too diplomatic. In fact the aforequoted lines were too long to tell Caroline “you are a liar, and you want to stay in UK and steal Harrods”. But that also spoke it out loudly about the trust between visa section at the UK embassy in Paris and the education institutions in UK is. Caroline burst with tears telling her friend “I am so sad. I have been dreaming of seeing you. Even the smallest joys in life are not affordable”. She talked to the university she explained clearly how she had the hope of making the voice of Syria heard.
But then when her friend at the university asked what can they do to help, she replied “all I can do now is to go and write on twitter about it”. In two hours Caroline wrote several tweets addressing the UK embassy in Paris and the commission of responsible of visa applications in UK. She continued then to address parliament members but in less than two hours she had received a message from a UK diplomat in the middle east telling her he will check on the matter if she doesn’t mind. Her friend form the university along with few Syrians followed her manifestation of right her tweets were re-tweeted. Her tweets:
Maybe its not against human rights but defiantly NOT pro human rights. My #UKVisa2speak at @UCLan about #Syria got refused @HMARicketts
#Assad is killing #Syrians bcz they raised their voices #UK us killing Syrian voices by not allowing them 2 speak #UKVisa2speak @HMARicketts.
@Carolineayoub tweeted mainly three stories tagging them each time with some relevant persona or entity on Twitter. He friend from University of Central Lancashire @MISt_uclan Clare Cook @cecook backed her generously with a strong belief in the case. Clare wrote:
Shocked and saddened a prestigious n esteemed guest @carolineayoub has had visa refused @timefarron @MISt_uclan @digidickinson @digidocs.
She also wrote:
@carolineayoub exactly why trade n gov laws that exist to oppose tyrants actually hit the people trying to raise awareness @MoHendrick
The collaborative effort paid back. Solidarity and the just case generated valid and legitimate buzz, and parliament members were in contact asking for more details. Finally, Caroline received an email from the UK embassy in France asking her to send her passport via courier to get her visa. Appealing to social media worked.
This is not a personal story only as much as it is a validation of the emerging new powers. New media. Social media is not only exceeding her precedent one who lost their position in the past years as a fourth state power but also challenging the traditional definition of power and authority. We are witnessing new models of legitimacy.
“Caroline case as I prefer to call it sets new definitions to social media, and I am going to share here very briefly the factors I believe had contributed to the success of this appeal:
1. Courage and initiative: without Caroline overcoming her instant disappointment and moving forward with positive energy this case would not have seen the digital light and London clouds. And this is a genuine component. It is inherited in Caroline personality to those who know her. She is a pacific, stubborn, persistent fighter. She doesn’t accept no as an answer for possibilities. But Caroline was able to appeal because she had the following:
1.1. Travel experience. Without such domain of subject experience she would not have that courage to consider there is something wrong. Many people in our societies today sadly and unfortunately miss their very basic rights out of experience scarcity, they tend to blame themselves or in the best case scenario their “luck”. They would not realize the carracks in the System. The new world media will provide in the coming years platforms to share experiences.
1.2. Twitter experience: this goes beyond the technical part of tweeting and mentioning. It is the proficiency in driving the machine. Without such proficiency the machine might fire back. Literally. We witnessed very similar cases in the Syrian revolution.
1.3. Reputation: Caroline as a credible source enjoys a reliable reputation. AN asset she can rely on. A strong base to erect the building. Without such solid ground her very same appeals would have sounded like teenager or tensioned paranoid ones and would not have gotten enough sympathy and respect.
1.4. Valuable Networking: such network creates the momentum and by network I am not talking about size at all. I am talking about quality. For many, out of pure ignorance of social networks architecture, a network size is the main concern. That is not the fact, In this case by example very few Syrians retreated Caroline’s pain of injustice. In fact many responded by stating “people are dying who cares about a visa”. That is exactly the momentum eroding type of people one would ever need in his network. Such dissemination of passiveness as the Syrian proverb goes is merely pushing a stick inside the wheel. That break the engine of social change. By contrast, the quality people like Clare and Seif are the ones needed in such situations.
And as you can realize both previous conditions are based on education and good work! things that do not come over a night. And although we are talking here about new media and concepts such as immediacy and real-time but education and reputation (out of previous good work) are based long term investments and by no mean can be abbreviated in a summed capsulated formula. I will be coming to reputation factor in future points as this is much different than crowd influence.
2. Clare Factor: Clare responded compassionately, immediately and right away took an action . I always say that you need a believer for any project in this life. Just one qualified believer and your project will succeed, and Clare fit these two criteria perfectly.
3. The middle east diplomat/The Insider Factor. At the end of the day change came from within organization. and to get such change from inside one needs to make a breakthrough the system. An insider influencer with enough credibility can make it. We are talking here at the pivot of change. Look at the Syrian case by example, should Assad regime has taken the proper measurements from day one and punished his family member Atef Najib who tortured Dara kids in south Syria, we would not have been here today. Do not make a mistake, same applies to democratically led political systems, in fact that is the core of democracy. Dynamic change from within to avoid conflict, several conflict, civic war, and inter-nations wars! This is the role of agents of change from within the organization/institutions, and that is a noble role. If this helpful diplomat was not someone knowledgeable enough about the Syrian case, if he was not in good terms with his colleagues, if he was not on twitter, and if he was not a person with sound judgment, things would not have come to these results. Maybe the campaign would have grown, and the unneeded sentiments towards UK government would have escalated. And injustice is definitely the last thing any institution or a country would like to be associated with. The diplomat was there, with all expertise and influential power to interfere and consider questioning conduct. This is an internal audit, immediate and I would call it a real time diplomacy. A new type of diplomacy they puts diplomats more close to the social pulse and reflect more humanly and with less bureaucratic.
4. Twitter: without twitter this would not have happened. Caroline timely addressed every one she wanted to address. Whether being an institution account or an individual one. This is flat communication resembling the internet architecture and the revolution architecture. It is the open doors management approach. Some might choose not to respond as was the case here, but that will make them less eligible and less public. I have worked extensively on Facebook architecture and I can argue that should Caroline had posted the same appeal on Facebook that results would not be the same.
Caroline won the appeal to social media. And Caroline got her visa and she was finally amongst her colleagues today Dec 11, 2014 speaking about collaborative efforts and Media in exile in UK @MISt_uclan. Maybe the best to reframe all this case is Clare words on Twitter @cecook: “a fitting opening frame for an event about the power of collaboration” and I would add to collaboration: the Syrian revolution twin dream: Freedom and Justice.