Social media is becoming an increasingly powerful tool of communication in the Arab world, as illustrated by its role in the ongoing anti-government protests in Tunesia and Egypt. In Morocco, social media is also becoming increasingly popular amongst young people.
Blogs, Facebook and YouTube are among the most popular tools for the youth of Morocco to express themselves, share information and to challenge the state censorship.
Moroccan blog awards
Maroc Blog Awards was held for the second time in January where more than 1000 blogs were entered in the competition for the more than 20 blog awards. In Casablanca I met jury member Nadia Lamlili, editor in chief of Economie&Enterprises. She explains that young Moroccans use blogs to talk about emotions, their personal stories and lifestyle. But now a new category of blogs emerge where the government and the king are being criticised.
One of the critics is Larbi El Halili with his blog larbi.org. He is one of the most popular Moroccan bloggers and the president of the blog award jury.
From his residence in France he writes about Morocco from a political perspective. In his latest blog post he states that for once Tunisia has taught Morocco a lesson, and not the other way around. He encourages the Moroccan leadership to increase freedom of expression and freedom of the press to prevent a chaotic situation.
Nadia Lamlili estimates there are 30,000 blogs in Morocco. She has of course her own blog as well where she writes about the state of the Maroccan press. Lately, she questions the increased use of anonymous sources in the media. Overall, she ssays that “there is more freedom of speech now on the internet”.
Facebook has become the most popular social network for young Moroccans. According to Facebook’s information for advertisers, there are 2.7 million Facebook profiles in Morocco, of which one million are women. Almost 2.5 million are 30 years of age or younger, so Facebook is predominantly a networking tool of the youth.
This number is not accurate, as people may have multiple accounts, and some may not be truthful about their location, sex or age on their account. But it is a good indicator of the fact that young Moroccans turn to social media for social purposes and to get information.
One subject is led out of the general conversation on Facebook, and that is criticism of the king. In 2008 the Moroccan engineer Fouad Mourtada created a fake Facebook profile for the King’s brother. It was meant as a joke, but it cost him a three year jail sentence. After 42 days in prison he was pardoned by the king. On Wikipedia, there are more examples of internet censorship in Morocco, targeted at bloggers, Google Earth and YouTube.
Even the king himself has a fan page on Facebook with almost 33,000 fans. His wall is filled with admiring updates in Arabic and French. There are also pictures of the king with his family. He uses the page to inform his fans about his take on Morocco. On 26 January 2011 he stated that the two biggest problems the country faces are illiteracy and corruption. The Minister of Youth and Sports also has a public Facebook page.
This article was originally posted on i-m-s.dk (International Media Support). I travelled to Morocco as part of IMS’ Twinning Programme which partners media professionals in Denmark and the Arab world to exchange knowledge and experience.
See also my article Morocco for women – is it getting better? at i-m-s.dk.