Throughout my online-virtual life, which I think became fully aware of itself in 2002, I have been a member of online Jordanian discussion forums (such as Mahjoob dot com) as well as Facebook groups more recently. Both such arenas of mass discussion have a high joining rate and a high turnover rate. I used to love being active in those discussions, whether they came in debate form or an angry exchange of insults. In a short period of time you can make a lot of friends and enemies. But since I created this blog a few years ago I decided to abandon the battle of minds and thoughts in such forums that stole so much mental energy from me that I had to put the concept to rest.
Today I’m content with monitoring various discussion forums and Facebook groups when I have the time for it. Rarely do I ever participate in the exchanges of free thought because I realised after extensive experience in the field, that it really does not exist in Jordan.
You have to pay close attention.
Democracy in these forums is pretty much a joke. It’s like Animal Forum in these places.
Just sit back and watch how people destroy each other, launch vicious attacks on each other in the digital format. And more importantly, how any sense of democracy deteriorates.
The same problems we face in Jordan on a real political and social level can be reflected in how young 17 to 20-something year olds operate and participate in these forums of discussion.
Moderators and administrators quickly become corrupt with power and enforce what they feel is a sense of law; censoring, banning, erasing identities and any trace that they ever existed. Even during the tranquil times, you have a type of dictatorial leadership that commands people what they should be doing all the time. An environment emerges where one begins to self-censor themselves, or refrains from engagement due to an email, private message or poke from the powers-that-be.
There are guidelines and rules. What you say, how you say it and even at times, what you’re allowed to believe in.
They say things like “Please people! Post this on ‘the wall’ and not as a ‘discussion topic’!!” or “You’ve posted this in the wrong place!” or “Stick to the topic people…Don’t digress or I’ll close the topic down, people!” or “Don’t use caps people” and “I don’t have time to tell you twice people”, when clearly they do.*
Accountability is absent because
As for the peons. They complain and complain and complain and complain. Some times their complaints are legitimate; most of the time they’re not. They hold protests and demonstrations with not-so-clever slogans and posters in their digital signatures; and if any of these are not
licensed by the government approved by the administration, they’re quickly shut down and members make mysterious disappearances for several days or weeks. This is typically followed by a “Free So-and-So!” rally that is organized by the political prisoner’s member’s friends
You have alliances and unions. The right wingers, the liberals, the religious, the super religious, the athiest, the communist, the takfiri; the rockers, the rappers, the hip hoppers; the poets, the politicians, the economists; the I-know-best types, the when-you-grow-up-you’ll-understand patronizing types, and the chain smoking Parliament types.* Unions are constantly attacked with the full force of the
government administration who feel they have too much power and they are always, always at odds with the Islamists.
Titles are important, even in the online world. There must be a hierarchy; a managing structure. The ability to pull rank on anyone at a moment’s notice; like a gun from a holster in a cowboy cliche. Naturally they would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions,
comrades, and then where should we be?
government administration is never, ever willing to admit fault. During very rare moments, a sudden corruption scandal causes an entire administration to be toppled. Other times, reformists are forced to resign in protest of the old guard that isn’t too pleased with the changes they’re trying to make; the status-quo.
They tell everyone its a democracy; there are even public opinion polls and infrequent voting mechanisms in place where ‘elected officials’ win with a mysterious 98.99% landslide. But most times the masses are so confused and chaotic, agreeing mostly to disagree, electing third-party candidates and last minute spoilers that are completely wrong for the job, that the administration finds it simply easier to appoint than elect.
They are places where we the
commandments guidelines state that all animals members are equal but some animals members are more equal than others.
No one is fooled. Everyone is conscious of the vague uneasiness.
Everyone can read the writing on The Wall; words that technology makes easier to read when using Wall-to-Wall.
What I like about blogs is that they make no pretenses that they are democracies or even that they are political structures to begin with. It’s mine; my precious. My rules, my virtual real estate, and I can ask you to take off your shoes before stomping all over the carpet. And people who comment already know it and they make the freewill decision to post their opinion, their two piasters despite whatever constraints the blogger has set up.
Forums, discussion groups, Facebook groups, it’s a “love it or leave it” policy. They have their moments though: when something positive transpires, when a beautiful exchange of ideas takes place; a debate of minds. But those moments where the written word prevails can be as rare as blue moon.
And so I wonder, in a virtual world that gives us the freedom to do anything, to say anything, to make something beautiful that our governments, leaders and forefathers were and have been unable to create; are we only wasting it in a subconscious reflection of our realities? Or in other words, if our virtual lives allow us to be something completely different; to escape the shackles of our imposed realities, are we merely trying to be our true selves in the moment? If art imitates life, does life imitate art? What came first, the chicken or the egg? The revolution or the evolution?
What I do know is that it’s a shame to squander the opportunity the Internet grants us. If a functioning democracy is born out of ideals already alive at the citizenry; isn’t the online world the perfect platform to experiment; to experience?
I mean really, it’s the only place where you can literally do anything you want, create anything you want.
It’s the only place where the worst case scenario is you press and hold the backspace key…
* Referencing ‘The West Wing’.