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People Using Media

Meet a Facebook power-user

One out of every two people in Palestine is on Facebook. But probably not that many are as active as Hassan Qamhia, who's constantly sharing his photos, videos and messages about what's going on in Nablus.

"Is there a Wi-Fi network here, please?" Hassan Qamhia asks every time he visits somewhere new in his hometown of Nablus, in Palestine's West Bank. 

Even though he has Internet on his smartphone, Qamhia is always searching for Wi-Fi. That's because the West Bank and Gaza are among the last places in the world that still use outdated and slow 2G mobile technology, after Israel banned fast 3G technology a decade ago for "security reasons". (Despite a December 2015 agreement between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to allow 3G in the West Bank, this still hasn't happened.)

And Qamhia, who uploads dozens of photos and videos to Facebook every day, simply needs fast Internet. 

Qamhia has been on Facebook, the most popular social media in Palestine, since 2007. He has nearly 8,000 followers in addition to 5,000 friends on his own Facebook personal account, one of the most trending accounts in Nablus.

Qamhia believes one of Facebook's advantages is the way it can be harnessed for the good of his community. For example, he often posts calls for donations or help, such as messages about blood being needed at a certain hospital.

Hassan Qamhia operating a camara drone

"Any person with a camera can act as a journalist"

Qamhia also used to run a Facebook page called Nablus City, which has more than 266,000 fans. Here he still shares photos and videos, including drone footage that, he says, attracts many comments – after all, it's not everyday that Palestinians living in and outside of the Territories get to see parts of Nablus and its surrounds from above.

 

"I always receive requests from people to film their neighborhoods and regions that they can't visit," says Qamhia, who bought the drone in 2015. At the time, it was the first in Nablus. 

Qamhia, who doesn't have any media background and works as an assistant director at a cultural center, believes in the power of citizen journalism. That's why he also contributes photos, videos and information to the Facebook news network Quds, which has more than 5.2 million fans in Palestine and around the world.  

"This is my style. I'm a vital and active Internet user who loves to create and produce instead of consuming," he says.

At the same time, he laments that people often post rumors on social media and that a lot of what's online can't be trusted. "Nowadays any person with a camera can act as a journalist and this is a problem. I know it can also be a positive thing sometimes but it has many negative sides too," he says. 

Hassan taking a photo of a group of protesters waving Palestinian flags

"We have many problems related to objectivity, balance, neutrality and credibility"

It's no exaggeration to say that Hassan Qamhia is addicted to Facebook, taking advantage of every free minute to check his account. He starts his day by checking notifications and messages on his mobile. At work, Qamhia uses a desktop computer to access the Internet, which he says is much easier. He tries to keep an eye on the Internet in the afternoons and evenings, but not as much as during the morning.

He estimates that he uses the Internet for about nine hours a day to get news and entertainment and to communicate. Sometimes, he takes a break and spends 30 minutes or so watching television or reading a newspaper. 

Palestinian local news is what interests Qamhia most – and he mainly consumes news in his native language, Arabic. His most trusted sources, he says, are international news agencies, like Reuters, because the media in Palestine are in "a bit of a mess."

"We have many problems related to objectivity, balance, neutrality and credibility. Media outlets have to care more about these values," says Qamhia. 

This isn't the only problem facing Palestine's media sector, says Qamhia, citing media censorship by the Israeli forces as well as violence against journalists and media activists as an obstacle to press freedom. And he says, internally, the media also face additional censorship from the Palestinian Authority. Another problem is that traditional media largely ignore the issues in Palestine's rural areas. 

In fact, in 2016, Palestine ranked 132 out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders' World Press Freedom Index. 

Qamhia believes new media is one way to help his people access information and raise awareness of their situation, especially in refugee camps and small rural villages. He also thinks that it's a great tool to voice opinions and raise concerns about issues affecting people's daily lives with a legislature or government officials. 

And with 3G potentially on its way, Qamhia is hopeful about the future. "We are thrilled about getting 3G Internet technology since I believe it would create a huge difference to Internet-consuming behavior in our society," he says.

 

Written by Ahmad Al-Bazz

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