Sharjah: Young people will eventually revolt against chaotic social media in order to seek assertive government communications, according to Andrew Keen, who was speaking at the International Government Communication Forum (IGCF) in Sharjah on Wednesday.

The controversial British-American writer made this surprising prediction in the opening session of the forum, titled ‘Human Behaviour: New Dimensions for Change Communication’. Keen was responding to a question from session moderator Andrew Wilson, a former Sky News presenter, about his view on private companies using role models or persons of similar profiles as their target audience to win trust on social media.

Co-panellist Roger Fisk, head of the political campaign and media strategist for former US President Barack Obama, had earlier said during the session that his team had used “teachers to reach out to teachers”, for example, during Obama’s election campaign. Fisk had said messages from people of similar demographics tend to “resonate” more with their audiences.

Reality reversed

Keen said: “This conventional, liberal view that people only trust their contemporaries, that if you put kids on social media, then you’re going to have more trust from kids — I think the realty is the reverse.”

He added: “I think the new ‘new thing’ is a kind of charismatic authoritarianism, which I don’t necessarily celebrate. I think that young people, in particular, want certainty. I think what you’re going to find is young people are going to radically rebel against social media and the democratising quality of it. I think that young people are going to yearn for a Churchill or maybe even a Putin or an Erdogan because, as human beings, we want certainty. And I think social media has created a degree of chaos and uncertainly which is making most of us unhappy and lonely.”

During the session, Fisk and another panellist, Dr Lamya Nawaf Fawwaz, executive director for brand and strategic initiatives at Masdar, said campaigns on social media have to be backed up by actions in the real world to be effective.

Keen, a controversial commentator on the digital revolution, disagreed once more.


Keen said: “Again I have to take a different position here, when we’re talking about 2+2=5. We have an American president [Donald Trump] who uses social media aggressively and brilliantly — and has been suggesting for years now that 2+2=5. So far he’s been massively popular on social media. And chances are, I think most people think, he’ll probably be re-elected. I think you can use social media — especially politicians — very dishonestly.

“Trump has spent the last three or four years using social media, essentially lying continually, and he’s gotten away with it. So I don’t believe that social media is necessarily very revealing and I don’t think that social media ‘truth’ wins out. I think it’s the reverse.”

The IGCF, which ends on Thursday, has been organised annually by Sharjah Government Media Bureau since 2012. The two-day event is currently in its eight edition.