Zouhair Al Saati, a 72-year-old man, has never touched a computer in his life. He considers Internet a time-wasting disease. But lately, Al Saati has been asking his children to log in to Twitter to get the latest tweets from Lebanese politicians active on the micro blogging site.
Al Saati and other Lebanese, elderly and young, are increasingly interested in Twitter, now that three major political figures joined the tweeting community: President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
“Why are people now interested in interacting with politicians on Twitter? Because the response might appear in the news or even in the Parliament the next day,” Ayman Itani, social media instructor at LAU, said.
When Hariri decided to join the Twitter sphere, he did not realize he was setting a new trend that will be quickly picked up by other Lebanese politicians. He was not the first or the only Lebanese politician on Twitter, of course, but –at the time– he was the only one replying personally to people who mention him directly on the site.
His action ignited a Cold War between Lebanese politicians, who tried to gather followers and interact with them as he does. Today, Hariri has by far the highest number of followers: 122,198 at the time I wrote this article.
The number of his followers increased at high speed until he had a ski accident and could not keep up his daily habits.
Minister of Telecom Nicolas Sehnaoui and Mikati, meanwhile, have collected 4,257 and 37,879 followers respectively.
“Being on Twitter is not only about pushing your news and updates but also interacting and building relationships with the people,” Itani explains. “Social media continues to play a growing role on how opinions are expressed, decisions are taken, arguments are made, and how competition is built.”
Think Media Labs, a social and digital media agency based in Lebanon, conducted a 10-week study on the three politicians’ active on Twitter. Sleiman’s growth rate amounted to 85 percent, Mikati’s 59 percent and Hariri’s 70 percent, the study revealed.
Understandably, Lebanese zai’ms mostly tackle political issues such as laws, regional and international politics and Arab uprisings. But people often ask them personal questions about their families and their favorite books, food, movies, sports and music.
One recurring question does not generate clear answers: “Can you help me get a job? I’m unemployed.”
Hariri was the first Lebanese politician to get his Twitter account verified (Lebanese singer Haifa Wehbe was one of the first in the Arab region to get a verified account). The former prime minister was shortly followed by PM Mikati, who got his account verified earlier this year.
Twitter verifies accounts of famous personalities around the world by confirming the identity of their owners. A blue tick next to the name certifies its authenticity.
Today, Al Saati awaits his favorite zai’m. “Do tell me when Sheikh Saad is back to tweeting,” he told me sorrowfully. “God be with him, I hope he gets better soon.”
By Farah Al Saati
LAU Tribune staff