Teaching Social Media in Palestine

I learned about the challenges facing journalists and bloggers in Palestine during a teaching trip to the West Bank. I had been invited to Ramallah to talk about the latest trends in social media and citizen reporting at a conference called Pal Connect.

The 3-day event, sponsored by the Arab Media Internet Network and U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, was the first-ever social media conference for Palestinians on the West Bank.

It was a fascinating experience. I met many interesting journalists, bloggers, activists and students from Palestine, as well as a number of international speakers and panelists. I also did a little traveling and spoke to journalism students at the Palestine Technical College in Al Aroub, a town near Bethlehem.

During the conference, I witnessed some of the difficulties that Palestinians face when it comes to Internet freedom.

Organizers of the Pal Connect event, held at the Cultural Palace in Ramallah, had set up a teleconference with bloggers and activists in the Gaza Strip. But the audience in Gaza was cut off from the event in Ramallah when Hamas security forces stormed into an auditorium and literally pulled the plug. They claimed the event lacked a permit. This was disputed by the conference organizers, who accused Hamas of censorship.

Internet use is prevalent in Palestine. But professional journalists, bloggers and citizen reporters must navigate between Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli military. The Committee to Protect Journalists and other organizations have documented repeated attacks against reporters and bloggers in Palestine. Journalists have been assaulted, threatened and at times killed.

People access the web from computers at home and via smart phones and laptops at Internet cafes in the cities. There is no 3G phone network. Clearly, this a major problem when it comes to real-time reporting with platforms such as Twitter and Foursquare. Nonetheless, I explained how the tools could still be used to publish timely updates and upload photos as long as there was a nearby wireless connection. I also discussed ways to enhance blog pages with multimedia content such as videos, audio slideshows and social media content using Storify.

All in all, there was a lot of positive energy. I found conference participants very open to suggestions and willing to try different reporting platforms. It was also great to see people at the conference tweeting in English and Arabic.