In 2011, people took to the streets in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya and Syria to demand change and for an end to corrupt rule. They did so aided with technology created in the West but the protestors innovated the digital platforms and showed the world what could be done with online content. It’s often been argued social media revolutionised the Middle East, but what if it was the other way around? Join us as we speak to Laila Shereen Sakr, who is more commonly known by her moniker VJ Um Amel, as we discuss how or if the Middle East revolutionised social media.
The internet has always been the place for free expression in Arabic and Arabs eagerly embraced the possibilities offered by the online world. However, since the Arab Spring, MENA governments have ruthlessly clamped down on the internet and have utilised spyware, fake profiles and disinformation on social media. Sakr writes, develops software and produces multimodal art to theorise technology, language and the body. Author of ‘Arabic Glitch: Technoculture, Data Bodies, and Archives’ (Stanford University Press, 2023), Sakr is Associate Professor of Media Theory & Practice at the University of California, Santa Barbara. At UCSB, she co-founded Wireframe, a studio promoting collaborative theoretical and creative media practice with investments in global social and environmental justice.
She is Faculty Affiliate in the Department of Feminist Studies, Department of Media Arts and Technology, Centre for Responsible Machine Learning, Centre for Middle East Studies and the Centre for Information Technology and Society. Over the last two decades, she has been a leading voice in the open-source movement, particularly for Arabic localisation. In 2009, she launched the R-Shief media system that went on to archive over 70 billion social media posts in 72 languages and developed software to analyse multi-dimensional data. She is Co-Editor for the open-access journal Media Theory, and for After Video published by Open Humanities Press. She is also an editorial board member of Punctum Books.