Contacts via the Internet do not replace personal contacts concluded the first Young Media Summit 2010 in Cairo. The Summit was organized by the DW Akademie as a dialogue conference for young media professionals.
For three days bloggers from Germany and nine Arab countries discussed questions including "Where are the borders between an 'Orient' and an 'Occident' in the global Internet?" And "How can blogging help overcome these borders?" At the end it was clear. Bloggers and readers' personal motives and attitudes were more important than cultural differences.
Every blog comment on the Internet, every message posted on Twitter or Facebook can contribute to more understanding between cultures. But there's no guarantee for this. Amira Taher, an Egyptian artist and blogger, said that without facial expressions or gestures, quick status messages couldn't deepen personal experiences between people.
German and Arab bloggers agreed that social media can have a democratizing effect by providing a counterweight to official positions. But so far, concluded one group of participants, this isn't the case in many Arab countries. In fact, it's just the opposite: governments sometime use social networks to exercise more control.
This raised the question of whether bloggers could or should remain anonymous. That depended on a post's objective, said German journalist, Julia Seeliger, because bloggers sometimes need to protect themselves. But Eman Hashim, an Egyptian feminist, herself found it a problem to encourage her readers to become involved without revealing her own identity. When it comes to handling critical and opposing opinions most bloggers tended towards tolerance, in the sense of freedom of expression. Only slanders and lies, they said, should not be published.
The Young Media Summit was aimed at a two-pronged dialogue - between the twelve Arab and six German bloggers, and also between the Arab participants themselves. Dozens of blog posts and hundreds of tweets reflected the great need to talk with each other. The participants continued their dialogue at the German Embassy's reception celebrating the 20th anniversary of German reunification. DW Akademie helped the Deutschland-Zentrum Kairo, attached to the Embassy, plan and organize the Young Media Summit. It was sponsored by the German Foreign Ministry.
The bloggers presented the summit's results during a two-hour panel discussion at Cairo University. A video of the discussion can be seen on the Young Media Summit 2010 blog. Approximately 120 students attended and actively participated in the discussion, even debating issues such as taboos and (self-)censorship. Here it again became clear that most bloggers are autonomous and so diverse in their opinions that a question never gets just one response.
There was an exception, however. Everyone agreed the dialogue should continue - preferably with another Young Media Summit. In real conversation with each other, face to face.