Koshan Ali Khidhir*
The Kurdistan Region of Iraq is making progress in various areas; media and technology have wide popularity, especially during elections or problematic periods. This report considers how Facebook and other social media networks have changed the relations between Kurdish citizens and their leaders. To what extent has Facebook become a campaigning channel for politicians? How far have these networks become a source of information for journalists?
According to chekfacebook, 1,174,300 Iraqis have Facebook accounts (out of a global total of 800 million users). 73.3 % of Iraqi Facebook users are male and 26.7%, or 312,180, are female. This means that Facebook has not become the main media in the region, but it has great popularity among the young: 40.4% of users are aged 18-24 and 31.6% are aged 25-34.
There are different opinions about the use of Facebook and other social media networks. IT student Andam Omer thinks that most Facebook subscribers lack sufficient knowledge about the platform. They are just using it for entertainment, says Andam, even though many of them are concerned about other matters such as politics and governmental issues.
There are still few Kurdish politicians using Facebook. Bilal Saed, journalist, has written a report on the impact of Facebook on Kurdish politics. According to his research, only 22 out of 111 members of the Kurdistan Parliament use Facebook.
Nechirvan Barzani, deputy head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, was the first prominent Kurdish politician to use Facebook, followed by Massoud Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Region, Salahaddin Bahaadin, Secretary-General of the Kurdistan Islamic Union, and Masrour Barzani, head of the Parastin intelligence agency – according to Bilal Saed’s report. He said he could find exclusive pictures and videos on the politicians’ Facebook accounts that he couldn’t get anywhere else.
However, journalist Mohammed Eli Zalla believes that social media in the Kurdistan Region has not yet become sufficiently popular and so politicians don’t see it as an essential way to spread their messages. Facebook has not become a way for politicians to interact with the whole of society because it is still restricted to elites or well-educated people. Facebook interaction does not and will not replace more personal interaction, Mohammed adds.
Shwan Medihat, another journalist, uses Facebook as one of his sources for news. Facebook news pages will encourage journalists to research for more information, he says.
Bahra Sediq is one of the female Kurdish journalists using Facebook. She has an optimistic view about relations between politicians and journalists via Facebook and other social media networks. It is easier and practical to contact politicians by Facebook, she says.
Akam Asos, a journalist, has the same perspective. It was always difficult to contact and meet with politicians, even parliamentarians, but Facebook has made this more possible.
In addition, Shwan Mohammed states that Facebook can enable politicians to publish their perspectives, ideas, videos and pictures more easily: it is progress from traditional interaction to the modern one. Facebook and social media could help change the public’s perception of politicians who should therefore open accounts to broaden their impact on society.
Shwan says that there are some high-ranking politicians who avoid talking to the media – so why would they want to use Facebook? He also mentioned that politicians’ Facebook pages are administrated by others and not themselves.
Andam has a slightly different view, saying there are few politicians on Facebook and so it has not yet become a mainstream way for interaction between politicians and citizens. However, there are some politicians who use Facebook to show their sympathy towards citizens and criticize corruption, he says.
Journalists are encouraging politicians to use Facebook more. Bahra suggests that politicians should be more concerned about using these new technologies and spending more time on Facebook to have more contact and popularity with journalists and society.
*Koshan A. Khidhir is a journalist, blogger, and undergraduate student in Political Science and International Relations at University of Kurdistan-Hawler (UKH): Koshanali.blogspot.com
This article has been published on Kurdistan Tribune: