Twitter announced this week that it is launching new foreign language versions of its micro-blogging site, this time for languages written from right to left. This BBC article tells of how 13 000 volunteers helped to translate the social media platform into Arabic, Persian, Urdu, and Hebrew. In a time of Arab Springs, and Iranian summers, what are the implications of this move?
As of 2011, Arabic was the 7th most used language of the internet. Between 2000, and 2011, use of the Arabic language grew by a staggering 2500%. No wonder then, that the function of social media in the Arab Spring has been such a hot topic.
Some commentators have gone as far as to describe the uprisings as ‘social media revolutions.’ It is certainly true that social media helped to spread news and messages. The week before Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, for example, the total rate of tweets about political change in Egypt increased tenfold. However not everyone agrees. Egyptian activist, and The Independent’s international tweeter of the year 2011, Hossam El- Hamalawy, argues that the term ‘social media revolution,’ downplays the role played by ordinary women and men in the streets. Many of these people have never used the internet.
Regardless of the extent to which social media has played a role in the Arab Spring, everyone is agreed that it has created important new spaces for discussion, dissemination, and mobilisation.
In an increasingly interconnected world, the implications of this for Public Relations are profound. From actors trying to influence the new debates in the Middle East, to companies seeking to carve out a space in emerging markets, relevant, and accessible communication is key. Relevant linguistically, as well as demographically and psychographically.
And for social media platforms too, becoming multi lingual is crucial. With the startling growth of Arabic as an online language, and with Persian being the second most used language in the bloggosphere, twitter and others can’t afford not to relate to these emerging audiences. The success of Chinese language micro-blogging site Weibo demonstrates nicely that, in the world of social media, ‘if you don’t do it, somebody else will!’