Queen Rania’s Speech at the Arab Social Media Influencers Summit - Dubai, UAE

December 10, 2018

In the Name of God, the Almighty and Merciful,

Your Royal Highnesses, distinguished guests,

May the peace, mercy, and blessings of God be with you.

It is my pleasure to be here with you today in Dubai, the city that never fails to amaze by defying reality and racing to build the future. I am also pleased to be in the United Arab Emirates, a country distinguished among nations for empowering its citizens with education and opportunities under the vision of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and His Highness Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed.

I would also like to thank His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum for this regional summit, which brings together social media influencers and other stakeholders in the field.

In preparation for my speech today, I spent time last week looking back at my journey through social media. After revisiting ten years’ worth of tweets, blogs, and posts, I decided to share with you what I have learned, and what I have yearned for over the past decade.

Starting now, I will need about 11 minutes of your time… And I know very well that I am competing for your time with Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube, WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter.

Growing up, we were told not to waste time, and that “time is more precious than gold.” Today however, time is more valuable than ever before!

Last year, mobile ad spending amounted to one billion dollars worldwide. And what was being sold?  Our time. There is constant competition for our minds and our attention, and a race to steal time from our hands… literally.

This reminds me of the story of an old man who did not know his age. He always counted his money, but never his time. When asked why, he said: anybody can steal my money, but no one can steal my time, so why bother tracking it? 

It is safe to assume that he didn’t have a smartphone or any social media accounts! Today, it is estimated that the average person will spend over five years of his life on social media.

Don’t get me wrong…I am one of these platforms’ biggest advocates! But my first advice to you is: give of your time to others, but don’t let anyone rob you of it. Treasure it and invest it wisely.

Are you still paying attention?

Good…I just wanted to make sure. Because a study conducted by Microsoft in 2015 revealed that our attention span has fallen to eight seconds due to modern technology… that’s shorter than the memory of a fish!

Some of you may have come across this figure in Time Magazine, The New York Times, The Guardian, or any of the multiple media platforms that rushed to disseminate it.

They were all wrong! Two years later, it was revealed that the figure was not based on a Microsoft study, nor on any form of scientific research. And the belief that fish have short memories hasn’t been scientifically proven either. 

There are countless falsehoods floating around our virtual world! Unfortunately, most of them are not innocent mistakes, but means to an end.

And although we grew up hearing that lies eventually come to light, this does not apply to social media.

Online, the plain truth is not appealing enough to be circulated and liked or to command power in the virtual world, despite the fact that it has never been more accessible than today.

The truth is losing ground to emotional rhetoric and sensational rumors. Today, hearsay or fake news can zip around the world several times over before the truth has even had a chance to sit up! Imagine, fake news on Twitter is 70% more likely to be retweeted than the truth… and that is a real statistic based on MIT research.

So do we blame these technologies and exonerate ourselves - as users and influencers? Do we turn a blind eye to the fact that behind every post, share, and like, there is a human being who bears responsibility? 

We owe it to the truth to seek it out and distribute it. It might not be the most appealing or fascinating, but not all that glitters is gold. Let us aim to give truth the final word. That’s why I offer my second piece of advice for today: the truth is worth it…spend your precious time in its pursuit.

This famous photo was captured by photojournalist Kevin Carter in 1993 while covering famine in Sudan.

He heard the cries of a child ravished by hunger, crawling towards a food distribution center, as a vulture lurked behind.

At the time, this image took the world by storm…it roused people’s conscience and moved many to help. Despite the photographer’s noble intentions, he came under intense scrutiny about why he didn’t stop taking photos to help the child. He was blamed for acting like just another vulture… using the child for his own ends.

That photo is 25 years old, and may be unknown to many here. 

But this…this…and this…are still seared in our minds as images that made our humanity bleed.

 I know that it is painful to look at these photos. They are a reminder that humanity fails humans sometimes…but to look away implies that we have also failed them, and merely listened to their cries for help without responding.

Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words, but a share and a like are no substitute for action. Let us ask ourselves: should we try to change the painful reality staring back at us through the photo, or should we settle for doing the bare minimum?

 Over the years, we have seen many succeed in garnering support for humanitarian causes through social media, and changing the lives of many. The successful campaigns you have launched here in the UAE to provide relief to those in need are a testament to that. In my country, Jordanians – on social media platforms and on the ground – rushed to the aid of our Syrian neighbors who sought refuge in Jordan. God bless you all for your efforts.

My third piece of advice: you will come across images of people that carry a message; so do not let their pleas go unnoticed. Empathize with them…and when humanity looks to you with hope, spend some of your precious time in its service.

My fourth piece of advice: Be influential…even if the price to pay is a few – or a lot – of these!

We all seek the approval of others, but sometimes our values require us to march to a different beat, even if that comes at the expense of our popularity.

We can all agree that we’d rather have a positive impact on one person’s life than receive a million likes. Because while fame and figures are proof of reach, real influence is the product of actions spurred by our conscience.

No matter what field you’re in or what interests you have, you always have a choice.

And finally, I would like to return to the starting point…to the first days of my social media journey.

A week after launching my Twitter account in 2009, I did my first interview through the platform. One of the questions I was asked was: choose four words to send a message to the world.

I responded with: bring down the walls.

Back then, I hoped – as many did – that this open space would change the world. I saw in it an opportunity to connect and to engage as humans in discourse unburdened by polarization or constrained by the mental barriers and prejudices we usually face, particularly as Arabs following the events of September 11th.

On many levels, my optimism was justified, and we reaped the benefits of this space. Its networks spread education to the farthest corners of earth, and extended hope and relief to those in need millions of miles away. It enabled us to teach children without teachers, sell products without markets, and follow summits like this one without the need to attend. 

Social media has achieved much of what we had expected from it, but unfortunately, we still managed to transfer our human barriers to this world. We now listen not to communicate, but to respond, closing ranks and isolating ourselves among those who resemble us and confirm our own convictions.

And so, hateful and prejudiced rhetoric have dominated. The world has grown more fragmented and polarized… Gradually, these barriers have risen so high that sometimes – despite being one of this space’s chief advocates – I have wished it didn’t exist due to its negativity. 

We hoped that social media would change our status quo, but the solutions must come from us, and change must start from within.

Distinguished guests,

I know that none of this is new to you, because our human values remain fixed. But in our fast-paced world and with the overwhelming notifications and updates, we may lose focus and allow our moral compass to deviate slightly, causing us to lose sight of the path we’ve drawn for ourselves.

So I come to you…the influencers…the people whose voices are heard, to urge you to use your time to break barriers and open communication channels… to impact people and rally support for those who need it most…to champion the truth and communicate through values.

And, just as importantly, to be kind to others, because the simplest expression of our humanity is a kind word.

I hope that I have made good use of your time here…God bless you and best of luck with your endeavors.