AMBER VERNETTI WRITES – Last week the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced the inception of the ‘Arab Social Media Award’ in the Gulf region to promote proper and acceptable social media use and to encourage awareness of the concerns associated with social media. Due to the UAE’s growing population of social media enthusiasts, this award celebrates various users (both individual and institutional) who use social media as a stage to showcase their “innovation and creativity.”

The award, which is given based on values of connectivity, creativity, and impact, was established by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the vice president and prime minster of UAE and ruler of Dubai.

At the award’s launch, Rashid Al-Maktoum said, “Social media influences are important change-makers in society…because social media are powerful tools for development and progress.”

As millions of UAE citizens use social media platforms to stay connected with distant family members and friends, Emirati leaders have also enforced strict social network rules and regulations to keep users in check. Abuse of social media privileges could result in jail time. Social media monitoring in the UAE is no small feat, having the Arab region’s largest Facebook user percentage (41 percent of the population), the highest percentage of LinkedIn profiles (14.8 percent of the population), and one of the largest percentages of Twitter users, producing an average of 2.5 million tweets per day.

In a survey by Emirates 24/7, about three quarters (74 percent) of the UAE population recorded “Facebook as their social media channel of choice.”

When asked about the beginning of social media use in the UAE (especially during the Tunisia and Egyptian upheaval), Alexander McNabb, a Middle East communications consultant, said, “It was revolutionary; destabilizing. It went beyond content into a much bigger issue: the movement of opinion.”

In addition to social media being a tool individuals can use to share their lives with others, it is also a means to “organize, mobilize, and communicate to the government.”

With so much of the population wrapped up in the benefits of constant communication with people globally, the UAE has become a bustling social media hub. Perhaps the Arab Social Media Award will motivate Facebook users to use social media as more than just a platform for posting and seeking the most ‘likes’ for their selfies.