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Thu 4 Dec 2014 02:17 PM

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Cultural sensitivity: Something to be aware of

Fatima El Malki, digital communications manager at Active, examines the importance of cultural sensitivity while using social media

Cultural sensitivity: Something to be aware of

Like on any media channel, in the Middle East there are certain areas to avoid when addressing the public.

With the introduction of social media over a decade ago, organisations continue to learn and perfect their communication skills when positioning their brand as best as they possibly can online. It is a continuous cycle of listening and engaging, however in the Arab region, there are certain topics best to avoid when initiating a conversation.

Some of the messages brands post on their social media might be considered tongue-in-cheek funny, but some of those posts are considered highly inappropriate in this region. How are organisations able to know where the boundaries are when it comes to the use of tone, language, references and more when releasing various comms on social media platforms?

A recent example comes to mind; Rihanna made a controversial move on her own Instagram account by posing in front of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Whilst being asked to leave the religious site, she still went ahead to post the photos on her social media accounts. This sparked an outrage amongst a number of her followers from the Arab world, who found the nature of her photos offensive in a place considered by Muslims as one sacred for prayer.

Respecting religion and culture is vital when communicating in the Middle East on behalf of any organisation or individual.

Another imperative area to look into is political situations in the Arab region, and commenting on them as an individual or on behalf of an organisation.

Though it is one of the ‘hotter’ subjects online, as an organisation you need to stay neutral as commenting on certain affairs may reflect badly on your brand. On a personal level, getting involved in political discussion online is encouraged, but users need to be aware of the messages they send out into the digital sphere.

As mentioned by the UAE’s Ministry of Interior, users must be aware of their online behaviour and its consequences.

There is a need for education on communicating on social media, particularly in this region. While there is a right to freedom of speech, spreading false information with the intention to create public panic, thus disrupting public order, will be prosecuted. The UAE law states those proven guilty to disrupting public order via spreading false information online, face imprisonment and a civil fine not exceeding AED1 million.

Moreover, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) launched ‘The UAE Social Media White Papers’ this year. The collection of white papers covered the rules and regulations on using popular platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

What stands out most from the Facebook white paper is a restriction on tagging other users and sharing information from other users without their consent. These restrictions by the TRA are justified in the white paper by explaining that they are no more than users should expect under the laws of the UAE – do not post content which is against public morals, the principles of Islam and the social moral welfare of the UAE.

The trends show that yes, there is freedom of speech in the Middle Eastern region, however you’re expected to behave online as much as you should offline. The new law on spreading false information online is a strong indicator that there is a need to educate the public on how to voice their opinion in an appropriate manner in the digital sphere.

There is a need for education on how to use social media appropriately in the region and institutions such as the TRA recognised this need by raising awareness on the rules and regulations when sharing content publicly.

It all comes down to awareness and cultural sensitivity both offline and online.

This is an excerpt from the Digital Trends Report Middle East, read the rest of the report on: www.activepr.biz/digital-trends-report

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