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Social Media as a Backchannel to Television in Palestine

The next speaker in this ASMC14 session is Rhiannon Were, whose focus is on the use of social media alongside public broadcasting in the Palestinian Territories. People there feel very powerless towards their leaders, given the lack of effective governance and accountability frameworks, and two political talk shows with ancillary multiplatform elements, conducted in part in collaboration with BBC Arabic, have been created to address this problem. The shows reach an audience of some 500,000 viewers, and research is underway to inform programming, evaluate the project, and generate evidence of impact.

Palestinians have almost universal access to TV, radio, and mobile phones, with Internet access also high. Some 78% have a Facebook profile, while around 27% have a Twitter account. Political participation in Palestine is also considerable, with 69% having engaged in some form: 39% have participated in demonstrations, 35% have contacted a local leader, and 32% have participated in an organised problem-solving effort. Participation by women is much lower than by men, however. For more than 50% of users, a significant amount of their Facebook activity is political.

Engagement with the programmes' Facebook pages is monitored and fed back into programming; some content is used directly in on-screen materials. This generates dialogue, opinions, and topical input and increases the diversity of voices by giving space to marginalised groups; it also provides a common forum for the Palestinian diaspora beyond the Territories themselves.

Social media use is seen as positively associated with political efficacy; multi-platform media users are also more likely to engage in offline political participation than people who use only traditional media. However, far more sophisticated measures of social media use and its consequences must still be developed.