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Communication ethics for online social movements: A study on Arab social networks on Twitter

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Social media increasingly play a role in transforming activist movements in the Arab world into digital forms. This study examines the link between adherence of network members to digital communication ethics and the level of the movements’ success based on the conceptual grounding in communication theories of Jürgen Habermas and Taha Abdurrahman. We tried to evaluate the link between the success of online social movement actors and their ethical contents by asking: What are the ethical implications of online social movements that do succeed in actualizing their goals? Do social network users discuss communication ethics to agree on terms of use within these movements? What are the important issues of communicative action and challenges of rational discussion in Arab social media use? We used two case studies: the hashtag #with_the_teacher launched to support teachers’ rights in Jordan in 2019, and a Twitter network of Arab users discussing digital communication ethics. We used mixed-methods and case studies approaches; data collected from Twitter were analysed using social network analysis followed by qualitative content analysis. Key findings demonstrate positive effects of activists’ engagement in social networks, and that commitment to digital communication ethics, whether stemming from secular or religious frames of reference, is significant for the success of online social movements. The case of #with_the_teacher network proved itself to be an example of successful digital protest and ideal model for rational ethical communication. Content analysis revealed that teachers formed a social network that exhibited strong solidarity and cohesion, and relied ‐ perhaps unconsciously ‐ on rules and principles of ethical discussion, including truthfulness, credibility, transparency, respect, accuracy and responsibility. Content analysis of the ‘communication ethics’ network demonstrated that the majority of content was religiously oriented, produced mainly by religious figures, educational institutions, or accounts with pseudonyms that are influential by the sheer number of their followers.

Keywords: Jürgen Habermas; Taha Abdurrahman; communication ethics; hashtag activism; online social movements; social network analysis

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: 0000000406341084Qatar University 2: 0000000419368411University of Leicester

Publication date: April 1, 2021

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  • The emergence of satellite TV, the internet and digital technology have dramatically changed the way audiences receive information and interact with the media. The sudden success of Al-Jazeera and other Arab broadcasters have altered the way the Arab world narrates itself and reports news from the region to the rest of the world. The journal aims to lead the debate about these emerging rapid changes in media and society in Arab and Muslim parts of the world.
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