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From the horse’s mouth


Executive chairman of the DMCC, Ahmed bin Sulayem, celebrates Facebook’s tenth anniversary and reviews its effect on society

February 5, 2014 12:53 by

If, like myself, you have a Facebook account, you are one of the 1.23 billion users who’ve been affected by the social network phenomenon, which on February 4 celebrated its tenth anniversary.

Those who already follow me on social media will know that I am addicted to it. At one stage, The Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC) created a position specifically to manage its social media interactions, on which its former CEO, Malcolm Wall Morris, commented: “The most suitable person for that position already has a job as our executive chairman.”

While an amusing anecdote, I take pride in the volume of truth in Morris’ comment. Today, in the UAE, 80 per cent of all internet users have a Facebook account, which is the highest penetration rate of any country in the Middle East region and a number higher than many European countries, including Germany and the UK.

Unlike the initial group of users who came from a small group of Ivy League universities, I’d initially heard about Facebook from friends, (being dyslexic, I remember referring to it as BookFace). However, I quickly became intrigued by the numerous possibilities it offers, in particular, towards its entertainment-based features. It took one year or so, until I realised the true power of this platform, not only socially, but also for business.

While, initially, I was tentative about accepting friends on Facebook, whom I either didn’t know very well or, in some cases, did not know at all, I quickly realised the broadcasting power of this platform. By writing direct information, particularly in my capacity as executive chairman of the DMCC, I found the more contacts I made, the greater awareness I could create, not just for the DMCC, but for supporting the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Not only did Facebook allow for a greater reach, it also allowed for greater accuracy and accountability of information. The old saying, “your story is at the mercy of the writer’s pen”, somehow, became less poignant. Suddenly, access to a social media account meant your story was at the tip of your fingers. In my opinion, this has been one of the most important freedoms created in the past decade. As social networks and platforms, such as Foursquare, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, continued to interact and expand, the ability to offer total transparency on one’s position socially, politically or otherwise became almost limitless.

This unprecedented method of making information readily available has made it virtually impossible for anyone to misquote or twist your words out of context. Chinese whispers about your point of view, whereabouts and interactions have become almost redundant.

Having created another platform for interaction and communication, almost anyone with access to a computer, will most likely have at least one social media account. In fact, the stigma of not having a social media account has led society to question the moral fibre of such individuals with scrutiny. I remember hearing about one particular article published in Der Tagesspiegel that linked a commonality of the two mass murderers, Anders Behring Breivik and James Holmes, not having Facebook accounts. Unfortunately I’ve engaged with enough sociopaths on Facebook to know that there are more than a few unbalanced individuals using social media, for which I thank Facebook for creating ‘block’ and ‘report’ features. That being said, I’m inclined to agree with a slightly more objective article that appeared in Forbes, which suggested: “Facebook abstainers will be labelled suspicious.”

While maintaining a certain level of privacy is a valid reason to not permanently update the planet on your every movement, withdrawing altogether from this level of interaction may suggest that you have something to hide. From my point of view, I’m not bothered by the fact that people have unfettered access to my opinions and/or whereabouts. Part of my role is to highlight and engage the public about what is happening in Dubai, particularly the forthcoming Expo 2020.

With the busy lives that we lead, one of Facebook’s giant leaps forward was when it created and launched a user-friendly platform for mobile and tablet devices. In tandem with the increasing speed and availability of bandwidth, suddenly your connection was not limited to being in front of your desktop, but non-stop, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Today, information goes viral in seconds, allowing for unprecedented coverage of global events like never before.

In terms of how companies engage with social media, I can safely say the DMCC has been fortunate to grow in tandem with the expansion of social media. Putting aside the benefits of mass communication, I remember analysing my ‘Facebook Year in Review 2013’, or what I like to summarise as a casual audit of my life. In being able to evaluate the achievements of the past year, it helped in highlighting what I felt was missing, for example, sharing my recent experiences with educational institutions. On the back of this, I’ve already arranged to speak at the Canadian University of Dubai on February 11 – something, perhaps, I wouldn’t have done without a Facebook account. The review also provided ‘at-a-glance’ information on other aspects, such as potential areas of the market we’re yet to explore and/or companies with whom we should be talking to.

We’ve also been able to strategically target forward-thinking organisations. As a highly efficient method for reaching out to like-minded companies and or individuals, the DMCC has seen great success in fine-tuning its marketing strategies by developing relationships with companies who share our passion for social media, something that has been instrumental in registering our 8,000th member a few weeks ago.

Platforms, such as Facebook, also support greater interaction from within the local community. While our internal marketing department can give us up-to-date information about what is going on within the JLT community, social media allows any member of that community to raise issues directly and, furthermore, create a dialogue where problems can be identified and resolved. Having recently completed the multi-purpose park in JLT, we received a lot of positive feedback from the community and it is our intention to encourage this level of interaction.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by technology, but, I believe, few of us could fathom the impact that a company, such as Facebook, would make on the world. Arguably the most remarkable aspect of Zuckerberg’s success is down to being the pioneer who made the most effective social media platform possible, something proven by the company’s on-going success and popularity. While sites, such as Friendster and Yahoo! Buzz, have fallen by the wayside, Zuckerberg’s on-going faith in technology and human interaction has assured him a position as one of the great technological revolutionaries of our time.

In conclusion, on behalf of the UAE, I would like to congratulate Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes on their extraordinary success and yet another decade of social interaction, as well as more services and products that will continue to revolutionise and enhance the way we communicate and understand one another.



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