(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) Blog posts of Indian columnist Shobha De and Russian crime fiction and social activist Boris Akunin have caused a bit of stir, controversy and a certain amount of social change in India and Russia respectively.
However, according to CNN Dubai chief operations director and CNN Arabic digital services director Caroline Faraj, blogging in the Arab world is totally different from how it is in the West.
What do De, Akunin, Faraj and UAE-based author Kathy Shalhoub have in common? Ideologically, they don't agree on several grounds, but they are fervent bloggers. They belong to a league of writers who believe that a blog is a "completely democratic space, where people can express themselves freely". Faraj does not write a blog herself, but is the editor of CNNArabic.com and is responsible for the content and management of the site.
Kathy Shalhoub; Shobhaa De; Alexander McNabb, Spot On PR's group account director; Boris Akunin; and Caroline Faraj at the panel discussion.
The writers got together for a panel discussion to understand why people blog, at the Emirates Airlines Literary Festival (EAFL). As a blogger, who would you write to? Or is it just another reason to be hooked online rather than talk to the people in the room you inhabit with?
One of the more interesting observations that the panelists pointed out was how bloggers from different regions use their respective blogs. While bloggers like De state that "a blog is necessarily a space to disturb and create discomfort in society," bloggers in the Middle East are still dabbling with their new-found freedom of expression.
"The young generation is all over the internet and especially in the Arab world (where) 60 per cent of the population is under the age of 30. All of them carry at least two gadgets with them. The social media in general is totally new to the Arab world. Four years ago we opened the floor to Arab bloggers to send us their thoughts because we were interested to get in touch with them. In less than a year, CNN received over 30 to 40,000 URLs from Arabs who were living in the Arab World. This is huge because it became a platform for them to express themselves freely without any censorship," Faraj said.
De said she liked the idea of a blog being a completely democratic space.
"I like the idea of having no censorship whatsoever. I post all the comments that come in, including the hate mails and threats, because that is what makes a blog exciting to me. The whole idea of being in that space is to encourage people to express themselves freely. Sometimes the comments can be hostile, which also is a learning process."
Akunin said the blogging scene was completely different in Russia. "In Russia, the internet world is quite wild. People are rude and they like to insult each other. In my blog, the rule is that everyone behaves absolutely well. If two people begin to insult each other, if they have a conflict which they cannot resolve through peaceful means, they can call each other to dual. So the conflict is solved by a method which I call the 'Russian Roulette'."
Because the very nature of a blog is a space for personal opinions, it is only natural that it could attract either encouragement or in several cases stark criticism. Lebanese born writer Kathy Shalhoub began blogging when she was a student in the United States. She started to write in a quest for like-minded individuals or people who were in a similar situation as she was, she said. "A lot of the discussions in my first blog were an attempt to reach out to like-minded people. It was an amazing reaction, it was not a place of controversy, but a place of connection, where people could share some of their feelings and find comfort. It doesn't matter if you are Russian or Lebanese or Indian, but you are always going to find some kind of attack against you or blogging. You are going to have to be ready to deal with that if you are a blogger," she said.