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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Twitter is evolving into the town hall of the 21st century

As Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid's following shows, Twitter has become a constructive platform for interaction between citizen and state

Twitter has evolved into a digital town hall for the region in our young century. Eric Thayer / Reuters
Twitter has evolved into a digital town hall for the region in our young century. Eric Thayer / Reuters

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, has the largest following on Twitter in the Arab world. With 8.44 million followers, he is among the 10 most followed world leaders on Twitter. Since Sheikh Mohammed launched his account on Twitter in 2009, the medium has evolved into a digital town hall for the region in our still young century. It enables citizens to air their concerns and share their ideas directly with their leaders, while permitting the government to disseminate crucial information instantly.

As Sheikh Mohammed himself said three years ago, Twitter and other forms of social media have “created new opportunities, removed all barriers & made the audience part of [the UAE’s] development plans. Having a tremendous influence, today social media channels serve as an open parliament and cannot be ignored or misled.” Sheikh’s Mohammed’s following, which is in excess of 15 million across platforms, is a measure of how deeply he is admired, especially in the Arab world, for his philanthropic endeavours. For many communities, he epitomises benevolence and wisdom.

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A brief survey of the region’s most followed accounts gives a sense of Twitter’s importance as tool of constructive communication in the region. Queen Rania of Jordan, with just over 8 million followers, is the second most followed user of Twitter in the region after Sheikh Mohammed. Her numbers are trailed by those of King Salman of Saudi Arabia, who has over six million followers.

The role Twitter can play in promoting participatory citizenship was highlighted by Sheikh Mohammed in 2013, when he invited his followers to generate original ideas to improve health and education in the country. The following year, he launched the Twitter hashtag #ThankYouKhalifa in Arabic as a tribute to the President, Sheikh Khalifa. His increasing following demonstrates to the world the good uses to which new technology can be put.

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