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Students pose questions during the May 31 debate over whether social media will advance democracy in the Middle East. The event was the third this year in a series of faculty-student debates on global issues.

Students pose questions during the May 31 debate over whether social media will advance democracy in the Middle East

The Kellogg Debates

Will social media build democracy in the Middle East? Faculty-student teams debate the question

By Adrienne Murrill

6/13/2012 - Twitter. Facebook. You Tube. These and other social media outlets undeniably played a significant role in the revolutionary push for democracy that has become known as the Arab Spring. But will they lead to a more democratic Middle East?

That question was the topic of the third in a series of faculty-student debates on global issues this year. The May 31 hour-long discussion was moderated by Clinical Professor of Management & Strategy Harry Kraemer.

“One of the things I think is very important, and that I talk about in leadership, is this whole idea of gaining a balanced perspective,” Kraemer said before the debate began. “Seek to understand before you’re understood. I think one of the best ways to do this is to have a vigorous debate on a particular topic.”

As is conventional in formal debate competitions, the participants were assigned positions on either side of the issue, so the arguments they advocated did not necessarily reflect their own views.

United we stand
Arguing for the motion, Clinical Assistant Professor of Law and Management & Strategy Juliet Sorensen and Shradha Balakrishnan ’13 posited that the ties that bind within social media will encourage democracy. “Social media tools were innovatively used to build solidarity and organize demonstrations. The quest for meaningful political change led millions of strangers to unite behind a cause they could believe in,” Balakrishnan said in her opening arguments.

Sorensen added that the Internet provides a “marketplace for ideas” in the United States, and that it can do so in other countries as well. “Some of those ideas are offensive, some are wrong, but the idea in the marketplace is you throw everything out there and what (is left standing) is truth, is popular elections.”

Divided we fall
On the opposing side, Senior Lecturer of Management & Organizations PJ Lamberson and Abdallah Jabbour ’12 argued that the science of social interactions shows that it leads to destabilization. “When like-minded people talk together, they tend to become more extreme, more polarized,” Lamberson said. “Social media promotes social interaction, and science shows social interaction to be a destabilizing force. It’s great for knocking regimes down, but not for building new ones.”

In addition, Jabbour pointed out that religion continues to play a strong role in Arab culture. “I’ve lived there most of my life and people are so adamant about their religion and affiliations that they will still vote for people who will represent their religion.”

Both sides presented compelling statistics and case studies to validate their arguments. After opening statements and questions generated by Kraemer, the debate continued with audience-generated questions.

The next debate will take place in the fall of the 2012-2013 academic year.

Further reading
Kellogg Debates: Faculty-student teams face off over whether the global carbon footprint can be shrunk by private enterprise alone

Kellogg Debates: Students and faculty consider the question: ‘Did Wall Street’s boom cause Main Street’s stagnation?’