Jordanian Democracy In Facebook Groups And Discussion Forums

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 the elite management sticks together. And you really don’t want to tempt the wrath of the font police who are just brutal on these sites.*

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?

And the 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?

I…don’t…know.

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…

And…just…start…over

* Referencing ‘The West Wing’.

17 thoughts on “Jordanian Democracy In Facebook Groups And Discussion Forums

  1. دكتور بوب رفض عرض التعليق التالي على هجومه على العلمانيين اللذين لا يهاجموا من يسميهم بالأصوليين.

    http://doctorbob1.jeeran.com/archive/2007/7/258192.html

    العلمانييون لايدافعون عن الأصولييون, بل يدافعون عن آخر المقاومين. هل سمعت في أيامنا هذه عن شيوعي يقاتل الصهيونية والإمبريالية في الجبهة؟ هل سمعت بفدائيين قوميين يواجهون الإحتلال والقمع؟ هل سمعت بكتائب العلمانيين توجه ضربات الى فلول الإحتلال؟ هل وهل وهل؟ طبعا لا. اليوم معظم هؤلاء تم شرائهم بوظائف حكومية فهم يطبلوا ويزمروا ويبيضوا وجه القمع والتخلف مثل ايام القمع “الإأشتراكي”

    فلم يبقى الا خيارين , وعليك ان تختار في وقت المعركة فيه حامية :

    اما ان تقف مع نظام قمعي عربي خائن يساعد قتلة العرب ويعينوه , أو تقف مع تيار قمعي ولكن يواجه قتلة العرب ويدافع عن الأرض والكرامة الوطنية. ولا يوجد بالعالم العربي تيار ثالث ذي قيمة.

    لذلك يا عزيزي قبل ان تشتم بالأصوليين وتضعهم في خانة واحدة, اسئل نفسك مع من تقف اذا لم تقف مع الأصولييون او تكف شرك عنهم.

    ثم من هم الأصولييون كما تسمييهم. هم ليسو من المريخ ولا زحل. هم عرب منا وفينا ولكن من القهر والذل وفقدان الأمل لم يعودوا يسعدوا بالحياة فبدؤا يحضرون لآخرتهم. وطز على هيك حياة يعيش فيها العربي ذليل كالدابة يأكل ويتكاثر ثم يجر العرباية وبعد سنوات يفطس. هذا حالنا تحت قمع الأنظمة وذل المحتل. اما الأصولييون فهم قمعييون بدون شك ولكن يواجهون المحتل ببسالة غير معهودة في تاريخ البشرية بينما نحن العلمانييون والشيوعيون والتقدميون كما نحب ان نسمي انفسنا سنبقى اما متفرجين او نصبح عملاء الأنظمة القمعية والإمبريالية مقابل حفنة من فائض الدولارات الأمريكية واللتي اوجدها البترول الخليجي الرخيص.

  2. hmmm,

    Discussions forums, bad memories Mr. Moderator? 😀 :p

    Honestly, what i like about discussion forums and groups is that aside from moderators intervension, you can witness the presence of all sects and political streams.

    Everyone fingertip is preserved and shown the way they see it feasible; was it a signature, a song they post or the way they dispaly a topic.

    Democracy is not only about THE debate in which rules are followed and a winning team has to come off and the rest of those in discussion should sliently wait the next game. the actually apperance for what used to be a miniority with no real value or wieght in jordan real life are having equal opportunity in the cyber life and actually doing something.

    It’s a major sucess to see different streams and colors from jordanian political and social life standing up and putting forward their identity in groups/forums and events, allowing people to view and particpate and perform their version of authority and justice overall.

    After a tough 6 years in the online life from discussion froums, mailing groups, blogs and finally facebook groups .. i can seriously assure you that those tools of communication as much as they sound useless, boring and furstrating at points did enrich various skills personally and provided me the chance to connect with interested people locally and internationally with friends in solidarity.

    It’s really bizzare everytime i realize that i met online the friends i work with closely in real life over critical democratic/social/political issues. Those friends/ cause partners are basically whom i failed to meet in real life while we were working for the same cause. Discussion groups brought us the chance to meet, and thats what i consider a worthy result for the hours i spent online and energy i wasted on other useless forums and discussions =)

    Layla, aka CHE
    Take care

  3. What you are saying is that on-line ‘democracy’ is not predicated on the free exchange of ideas, be it discursive or aggressively self-righteous, rather the medium through which it is practised; blog or forum.

    You then go on to write that a blog does not aspire to be democratic; “They make no pretences that they are democracies or even that they are political structures to begin with. It’s mine my precious.”

    You later lament and ponder whether the ‘freedom’ that the on-line world imbues the individual is being wasted, suggesting a failure to take advantage of a tool that could shift the status quo created by “governments, leaders and forefathers.”

    Yet you’re effectively advocating liberation through censorship and suppression of opinion. Your argument seems to be based on a value judgement i.e. forums are characterised by ad hominem attacks and loathing, in which “democracy deteriorates,” whereas a blog is (artificially) enlightened, progressive, and reasoned. Surely the only reason for this is that it is moderated and controlled by you, the individual. I could persuasively argue that in this case that “individual” and “dictator” are interchangeable.

    It’s out and out hypocrisy; you are endorsing and justifying exactly what you’re arguing against.

    If you want to talk about a “virtual that gives us the freedom to do anything” then surely you should allow that to happen at home i.e. your blog. If you want plurality and diversity, for good or ill, then you have to advocate it and practice it my friend.

    It seems like you, not the forum warriors, are the progeny of what you are battling with.

    You sound like a corrupt leader preaching democracy as long as it’s not extended to the vociferous and unruly.

    Freedom of choice and democracy bring to the world opinions, beliefs, practices, ideas and convictions that you may not like, but that is the point black-iris.

  4. Eh… how is that a local problem ?
    Forum flame wars, trolls, and noob admins fill up the whole internet so yeah its just the norm and its not an anomaly

  5. dan: i think you’re confusing things here, so back up a little before you start accusing me of hypocricy and other things you’re not qualified to judge on.

    a blog in relation to the internet, particularly forums and such, is more like what a home is to the greater society. a blog is about what freedom I have as an individual within my OWN home, to talk about. The greater society outside these doors is completely different. I am not saying blogs are better as a “political structure” on the internet, I am saying from a personal perspective they are more comfortable for ME. The same way I feel more comforatble at home, in my own room, as opposed to the greater society.

    thus i am not comparing a blog to a forum, in the same way i am not comparing a home to the bigger context of a society. they function in completely different way.

    my focus is on the latter, and how it operates online in relation to real life.

    i hope you understood my point this time around. if not, then we can just resort to calling each other names in hopes of getting some entertainment out of it.

  6. I guess that it isnt explicit to Jordan or the Arab world. I have been into different discussion forums over the net, and it has always been the same. People don’t like those who differ in opinion from them. They usually takes sides, and attack each other!

  7. observer, i think you, along with bambam, are looking at this strictly from one single side…a characteristic, like saying everyone smiles..so what…big deal.

    i’m trying to look at the whole structure, the phenomenon, the way we operate. the way we pick faults in an external system we cannot control, yet are unwilling to make things right in a system that we CAN control and directly influence.

  8. Nas, I am sorry, I read back over what I wrote and it is unneccesarily personal, you’re absolutely right. Nevertheless, I understood your perspective, but I still don’t agree with it within the context of freedom of expression and changing ideals. Obviously a blog is individualistic since you set the subjetc etc. But by the same token you’re making your thoughts public and you’re doing that very deliberately – because you want to share your musings with anyone who chooses to take notice of them. Therefore you’re inviting dialogue, agreement, disagreement, discord and any number of responses and reactions.

    I guess the bottom line is don’t leave the doors of your house open if you don’t want unwanted visitors. Personally I don’t understand why you would want people to give “a piaster” for their thoughts if you suffix the invitation with “No spamming, no profanity, and no flaming. Inappropriate comments will be deleted outright.” I agree that certain postings are not a constructive addition to the debate, but shouldn’t your readers be the judge of that? Or should you dictate to them what they should or should not read? I think it detracts from the debate and goes against the principles of freedom of choice and any other notion of democracy. Isn’t that, after all, what you’re fighting for?

    Best,

    Dan

  9. dan: ah! now we’re on our way to a substantial discussion.

    a blog is almost a special case in the online world. not all blogs depend on interaction. some blogs do not allow discussion all together. they can survive as opposed to discussion groups which are by default of their name solely dependent on that engagement.

    i do allow discussion on this blog, in the same way i invite friends over to my home, but given that it is my personal space i exercise the ability to manage the shape and form of the discussion, rather than the content. if we were on a discussion forum then everyone involved in the discussion, by virtue of their participation as members of that society, are fit (and have the right) to judge what it is constructive and what is not, instead of say, an appointed moderator making that decision for them.

    in an open society, members of that society should have the right to dictate speech and certain inalienable freedoms. in one’s open home they are free to do what they like.

    in any case, as i said before, this wasnt a comparison between blogs and discussion forums. i merely mentioned the former because i was speaking from a personal space at the time, by way of saying ‘i am more comfortable’ using this instead of that.

  10. Nas: Of course “interaction”/reader contribution is not a prerequisite for keeping a blog. It is, as you point out, a matter of choice. Again, if you do allow some form of discussion then, again, it’s at the moderator’s discretion whether the submission stays or whether it’s cut. That all goes without saying.

    The issue in question is not your ‘rights’ to do what you will with the material, it is the implications of you exercising those rights vis-a-vis freedom of speech, agency and democracy, since these are the issues that lie at the heart of your original post. The individual vs the collective, if you will. So, on the one hand you can say, “It’s my prerogative, I don’t want this or that to stay up.” But, on the other hand, what does making that choice signify for the topics mentioned above?

    It means that while you are exercising your right, you are conversely denying other people’s i.e. the right to be heard. If you’re pro-democracy, how do you reconcile and justify that? It’s a tricky question.

    You may well respond by saying “But it’s my choice, my blog, my voice, my opinion, my right etc.” Granted, but then why write a post that ostensibly champions the cause of democracy in cyber space while correspondingly undermining it?

  11. Damn. And I thought for a second you were using Facebook as an analogy for the you-know-who people.

    Naseem, sorry, but you shouldn’t look too far or expect much. This is a chronic issue that has been choking us for ages. At school, we are taught that if you stick to the rules, in fact, if you obey and worship your teacher, then you get a gold star. At university, you are taught that if you argue, or try to discuss anything with the instructor, chances are, that instructor will take revenge by flunking you the course. If you argue a policeman, for let’s say, speeding, or perhaps forgetting your ID card at home; chances are, you will be framed for something graver, just so that you spend at least one night in custody. If you disobey your father, chances are you will be disowned. This is Jordan, where obsessive-possessive behavior is the norm. I mean, not long ago, a Gay blogger and a political one were banned from an aggregator, and my point was, that perhaps the Internet is our only breath of true freedom of expression in Jordan; so why practice self-censorship? But khalas, it’s an empty cycle, and the same way such behavior was imposed on us, and passed on to us as children, now we are passing it on to the next generation?

    Who wants to break the cycle anyway?

  12. Dan,

    You are making a point regarding freedom of speech and that moderating a blog contradicts that freedom. There are more questions here than answers, but there is not good enough material to make me want to scroll that far down, so I will probably not start that discussion. Suffice it to say that I see where you’re coming from.

    Nas, as I understood, is making the point that forums operating under the pretense of being democratic end up immitating our not so deomocratic reality. I find that very interesting and thought provoking as to why that is.

    One more thing that Nas indirectly points out to is the question of : Here’s total virtual freedom, what are you going to do with it?

    I also find the analogy of governments to forums interesting, and I allowed my mind to wander while reading, and found there to be more similarities.

    What happens if the forum absolute rulers are told behave a certain way by the site owners??? The people who control the money. Is there any similarity between funding a site and funding a country?

  13. Sari,

    Do you not think that those questions require an answer? Surely they do since they constitute what is really at issue here.

    I agree that Nas raises some interesting points, but regardless, it is still disingenuous to extol the internet’s egalitarian potential without allowing it to flourish yourself. It’s a non sequitur.

    How can we have a serious debate without recognising this?

    Ultimately, whichever way you frame it, whether through parallels with the government or other institutions of power, if you don’t desist from imposing your will over another’s then the net is not a world of infinite possibilities, it is a conflict zone of me vs you.

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  15. Hello there. Whilst looking for an ‘I hate forums’ forum, I found your blog and found it quite amusung. I totally agree with your point of forums being a heirarchy. However, forum members are usually just mere mortals- like myself- who sometimes are desparetely seeking attention and approval of intelligence or emotion.

    The silent heirarchy of mass posters. The beliguent tut-tut’s to ‘noobies’ who dare raise an objection or participate in a thread/discussion only to be rebuffed or critically corrected by some know it all who has a zillion posts under their belt and unnecessarily declares their undying love and loyalty to the moderators/administrators/ etc etc.

    Most forums are part of light hearted entertainment, yet forum threads can become quite serious and political, over the most mundane topics such as ‘The thread for threads where replys to threads that don’t belong on this thread…’ I would just like to shake some members and suggest they Get a Grip. Immediately.

    One forum I have given up on, has sadly just become a place partial to bullying new members and resembling The Masons.

    Lighten up people. Serious debates should take place. But can we stop the schoolyard tactics?

    Thanks Nas.

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