When His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, signed up on a Twitter page in June, 2009, he had 1,208 followers. Today, he has close to 965,618 followers on his official Twitter page.
With the number of followers increasing everyday, Shaikh Mohammed’s tweets have had a big impact on the Emirati and expatriate community, especially the youth.
The Ruler of Dubai’s reach on social media does not stop with social networking websites. Along with his website, sheikhmohammed.ae, and his Youtube page youtube.com/user/HHSMohammedBinRashid, which has about thousands of subscribers and around 490,000 viewers, Shaikh Mohammed reaches out to his people and well-wishers. In one of the videos posted on his Youtube page, he said: “Social media plays an important role today. The purpose of this channel is to facilitate communication.” The page showcases his speeches, interviews and latest news of Dubai.
Dr Elsayed Bekhit, associate professor of journalism at the University of Sharjah, said that Shaikh Mohammed’s online presence has influenced the youth in the UAE in a positive manner. “The Emirati youth admire their leaders; they look at the leaders as their best life model, especially Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid who is trying hard to keep in touch with his people. He is a pioneer in using online communication,” he said.
Social networking websites are redefining the way leaders communicate. According to recently published reports, 15 of the G20 governments use Twitter as a means to communicate. US President Barack Obama was the first to use the micro-blogging service to communicate with his electorate in 2008.
“Since the launch of Shaikh Mohammed’s Facebook page, a lot of youths realise the importance of communicating online. I admire the way the youth select quotations from his Facebook page, and how they interact about current affairs,” added Bekhit.
Shaikh Mohammed’s tweets are posted in Arabic and English. Thousands of people from all walks of life across the globe flooded his Facebook account with congratulatory messages when he announced the birth of his son Zayed in January.
Tariq Hussain, a 17-year-old student, said: “I saw a video of Shaikh Mohammed travelling alone in the Metro on Youtube. How many leaders do things like that? It’s amazing that he makes such a genuine effort to communicate with his people.”
“The Emirati youth and people in general respect their leaders, admire them, look at them as ideal model and they are very active in using technology and they are active in different fields,” stated Bekhit.
Last month, Shaikh Mohammed used his Twitter account to draw attention to the poll to vote for the UAE brand logo to promote the UAE abroad. “The UAE nation brand logo will promote the UAE and tell its story to the world,” he wrote. “I want all of you to choose the design you think is best.” The post was re-tweeted 153 times. Recently, he has drawn a lot of attention towards new policies in education via his Twitter handle. Follow him @HHShkMohd on Twitter.
Do they follow their leaders?
According to a Khaleej Times survey, seven out of ten people think the social network profiles of the leaders are managed by professionals. Khaleej Times spoke to residents and tourists in Dubai, taking their opinion about politicians and rulers being active on Twitter and Facebook.
Though a vast majority of people spend a lot of time on social networking websites, none of them believe that it’s their leaders who are doing the actual job of ‘updating their status’ or posting a ‘tweet’.
Take Canadian national Adam Gelinas for example. He said: “It’s their publicists who do all the work. But if you look at it, it’s actually a very good thing. They are communicating with the public and it shows that you are really out there.”
Indian student Indu Sreeya, 13, said: “I am an active user. I check my Facebook profile every alternative day. I do not follow any leader on social media. My dad does follow them. He occasionally keeps me posted on what he reads.”
Another Indian national Jaya Gedda said: “It’s definitely a good thing. We get to know what the leaders are thinking and what they are planning in terms of policies. I look as and only when I come across updates. I do not take any special interest as such.”
Meanwhile, Sri Lankan national Shalain Mendis, 21, outrightly said: “I do not follow any leader. I am not into politics. It may be a good thing, but I don’t know.”
Nepali national Rajan Giri said: “I occasionally do come across a new policy or a status update. It’s a good thing. It keeps us aware of the state of affairs in any country.”
Ugandan national Arafat Hamza said: “I am addicted to Facebook. I need to keep checking it every 5-10 minutes. I follow Shaikh Mohammed on Twitter and I find that it is fantastic that he is so active on social media. People here can be oftentimes confused with the legal procedures and new rules. He makes it easy for us.”
However, Belgian national Jespers Jan thinks otherwise. He said: “I do not have an account on Facebook or on Twitter. I don’t see a point in it. If you want to see what your leader is saying, switch on the television or check out news websites. It’s enough. World leaders being on social media is more of propaganda. It’s their publicists doing all the hard work and not them.”
Saudi national Mohammed Rashid said: “I am not interested in what leaders have to say. I don’t see a point in following them on Facebook or Twitter. Social media is to keep in touch with friends.”
Nigerian nationals Solenke Ruth and her husband Solenke Bosip said: “Leaders’ tweets are ‘doctored’. I know how my President sounds, but when I read his tweets I know it’s not really him.”