CHI 2016 Update: Workshop Participation

I am thrilled to announce that I will be participating in the CHI16 workshop Bridging the Gap between Privacy by Design and Privacy in Practice .  In the workshop we will be discussing ways to bridge the gap between design and practice. I aim to bring an angle that is rarely discussed in such forums that is cross cultural privacy design.I will talking about my design framework that advocates for culturally sensitive design that is inspired from my research experience working at the Value Sensitive Design lab and the work I’m doing with Arab youth on privacy issues with social media use. For more details please read my accepted position paper titled Culturally Sensitive Design for Privacy: A case study of the Arabian Gulf and if you are in San Jose during CHI16 please come and speak with me.

Twitter, Islam & The Aftermath of Paris Terrorist Attacks

The tragic terrorist attacks of November 13, 2015 in Paris sparked a massive global discussion via social media between those attacking and those defending Islam and Muslims. The March 22, 2016 terrorist attack in Brussels is now sparking a similar and heated online debate. This caused our research team from Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) – Walid Magdy, Kareem Darwish and myself (Norah Abokhodair) – to ask: what is the breakdown of this sentiment?

We analyzed 8.36 million tweets beginning seven hours after the Paris attacks and continuing for another 50 hours. Searching for words and hashtags relevant to the event, we then identified about 900,000 tweets relating to Islam and Muslims. Our results showed that a majority (61%) of these tweets defended Muslims and Islam using the hashtags #MuslimsAreNotTerrorist (34,925 tweets at the time of writing) and #MuslimsStandWithParis (1,228 tweets). On the other hand, a considerable number of tweets – originating from Western countries such as the Netherlands, France and the U.S. – used language that blamed all Muslims and Islam for these attacks. These tweets ranged from asking their government to take action against Muslims to using the hashtag #KillAllMuslims (206 tweets). Check out the graph below for a per-country breakdown:

Attitude towards Muslims by country. Numbered beside each bar represents the rank of the country on defending Muslims.

For example, one of the most followed accounts that appeared in our most retweeted attacking tweets was the U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump’s.

In the tweet, Trump slams the Democratic Party and president Obama for not referring to the Daesh/ISIS attacks as Islamic Terrorism. When reviewing Trump’s timeline, one can see that this is part of a series of similar generalizations about Muslim culture. But can following and reading @realDonaldTrump mean you are also more likely to blame all Islam and Muslims for the tragic actions of a few?

To investigate this, our follow-up study (recently accepted to the ACM WebScience conference in collaboration with researchers from Melbourne University in Australia, will link in later post) focused on U.S. Twitter data to examine the effects of social network interactions on future attitudes. By studying pre-event interactions – including who you follow, who follows you, and the content and people you tweet and retweet – we can predict your attitude and your political stance. We confirmed that by assessing users’ stated stance based on their post-event tweets. Most impressively, we found that pre-event interactions predict someone’s attitudes towards Muslims with high accuracy, even if they never discussed the topic before. Social media messages and networks therefore have profound influence on political attitudes and shape national and international policy. Future research will allow for more accurate predictions of community response to crises and the drivers of policy change. 


Spatial & Social Connectedness in the Arabian Gulf: How to connect when connection is forbidden

Being back in the region after living abroad for too long has been eye opening for me in many ways. I consider myself a person with feet in two worlds: The West and The Middle East. It is a very unique place to be and I feel very privileged. I’m reminded of this privilege in the most random moments, for example, I will be dining  in a restaurant in Doha and I could clearly understand and empathise to both types of the restaurant clientele: the locals and the expats.  This superpower needs more than just being bilingual. It is not only a language power … language shapes maybe 40%. In my opinion, it is the understanding of the lived experience of both places, feelings of home and what ‘home’ means to both parties,  along with language and some other secret ingredients. Fascinating ! Right…

A photo from Susie of Arabia’s blog showing a restaurant dining area in Jeddah. In the photo you can see the segregation between expats, Saudi women and Saudi men more clear by color. The expats (wearing Western clothing) in one corner, the men (wearing white thobs) all together taking somewhat the bottom side corner, and then the women (wearing all black) clustered at the top corner. 

Anyways,  this experience inspired me and my mentor, Sarah Vieweg at QCRI to write together a position paper to the CSCW16 Workshop on Spatial and Social Connectedness in Virtual and Mediated Environments. The theme of our submission is focused on explaining the unique work environment in 2 Gulf countries (Qatar and Saudi Arabia) and how the day-to-day interactions are shifting slowly to mediated environment and in many cases aided by technical solutions. We provide the example of Instagram shops and how they are empowering to women who lack the support or approval of the family to either work outside the home or start their own business.

Here is a link to the submission. As usual your thoughts and comments are always welcomed.



Fatwas and Social Media

Norah Abhokhodair & Sarah Vieweg

We’ve recently been having long conversations, coming up with half-baked theoretical motivations, and thought of about 9 different conference and journal paper ideas…all around the socio-technical research each of us does in the Middle East. We specifically focus on the Gulf Cooperation Council countries (GCC), which are comprised of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Of late, there has been a lot of discussion, worry, and intrigue in this part of the world regarding the ways in which technology — specifically, web-based communication technologies such as social media sites — are changing the foundations of Gulf culture, and probably causing a shift towards modernity and a loss of traditional norms, practices, and perspectives.

Recently, a conservative newspaper in Saudi Arabia published an interview with a Sheik (Muslim cleric) who supports a recent fatwa (a point of Islamic law) that claims that women should not be allowed to access the Internet without supervision or permission from a muhram (related male guardian). This is to say that every time a girl or woman wishes to use her phone or other connected device to access the Internet for any reason — be it to get directions, do research, connect with friends and family — she must do so while under a muhram’s eye — usually a father, husband, or brother.

The primary fear or concern regarding Saudi women accessing the Internet unsupervised is that online communication on social media in particular may lead to committing a sin knowingly or unknowingly. For example, proponents of this fatwa claim that social media have opened a new way for unrelated males and females to communicate that is free from the social constraints that are more easily enforced in public places such as schools and shops. The concern is that social media communication might evolve into phone or face-to-face communication between unmarried women and men, which is forbidden under Sharia law. So we see distress regarding the perceived ease with which unapproved activity can take place via social networking sites; namely, men and women can communicate, which is not something that can easily happen in other, easily accessible environments.

Regardless of how we may feel about this fatwa, and whether we agree with the premise, what is of note regarding the “complicating the online/offline binary” is that this kind of online communication (i.e. social media) developed with Western users in mind and adopted globally, is causing discomfort to many, such as the conservative Muslim clerics who aren’t happy the new values introduced to their society that are in tension with their religious and traditional values. Many of these clerics are unfamiliar with social media (and the Internet overall) and as a result, the lack of control over an unknown realm is cause for reaction. For us as researchers focusing on this part of the world, this confusion with the foreign object is interesting to observe for many reasons. Something we will continue to follow going forward are the tactics clerics will formulate and utilize to influence laws and policies that equate social media communication with face-to-face communication, without taking the properties and nuances of each into consideration.

Invitation to Participate in a Study on Social Media Privacy

SocialmedialogoAre you a social media user?

Did you spend time or plan to spend time studying in the US or Canada?

Are you willing to talk about your opinions and habits regarding social media?

If so, I would really appreciate about an hour and half of your time.

I am Norah Abokhodair a Saudi Arabia Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington (Seattle), in my research, I seek to understand what does “privacy” means to young Saudi women and men in the age of social media. My target participants are young Saudis who spent time studying in the US/Canada, or plan to spend time in either countries, and use social media applications such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.

Interview procedure: I will spend 1:30 hours (could be all at once or divided) with each participant (individually) to talk about social media use and related concerns. The interview can be performed in Arabic or English – whichever language you are comfortable with.

During the interview time participants will engage in a short activity that involves creating a collage using a collection of pictures and words (no design or art skills are needed for this).

I will not be collecting any personally identifying information. As a researcher I have a received approval from the University of Washington Human subject division to pursue this research under the condition of complete confidentiality.

Please let me know if you are willing to participate. Also, if you know of any others who may be interested, please pass this email along.

Thank you!

Hello from Qatar’s Computer Research Institute !

A quick update, I am currently interning at Qatar Computer Research Institute (QCRI) where I will be working on research related to Arab youth, especially, gulf youth and social media.

The institute is very well equipped with the researchers and resources to conduct thorough research in this area and many others. From my first day here I quickly realized that places like QCRI will bring the GCC on the map of leading countries producing important scientific research.

I will be posting quick notes and updates on my journey at QCRI and Qatar so please stay tuned.


Saudi youth and Social Media

I read this article in the NYTimes and it is right on topic. I am currently preparing for my proposal defense and I believe that this article is a great teaser to what my study is going to be about, and the study expected results and contributions.

Some interesting points:

“Young women who cannot find jobs sell food or jewelry through Instagram. Since they are banned from driving, they get rides from car services like Uber and Careem. ” This is a true statement. In recent years the number of shops on Instagram tripled and the sale usually is conducted through WhatsApp. What is interesting in this behavior is that Saudi Sales men and women decided to ignore sites like Etsy and ebay that make the shopping experience easy and are designed specificully with shopping and selling in mind. To social media platforms like instagram and WhatsApp that were designed for different purposes in mind.  This is one of many other examples where Saudi youth made technologies their own, or in the words of the article author “Many have used the new technologies in uniquely Saudi ways.”

Another one is regarding the use of social media for romance and intimacy

“For Raqad Alabdali, a conservative 22-year-old from a Riyadh suburb, romance began when a man she did not know responded to her melancholy posts on Twitter with a private message. They were soon messaging constantly.” Romance and intimacy over social media is not very surprising … many stories here in the US and Europe show how applications like Tender and Grinder are helping men and women find their other half.. What is unique in the Saudi version of the story is that women and men are segregated in many aspects of the public life in Saudi.. so when they meet on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook it is totally random and some could end up in marriage and some dont.

The article shares the example of Raqad who continues her story ” They exchanged phone numbers for an occasional call, and she eventually sent him a photo of herself unveiled, in a white dress with bare shoulders and eye makeup on her uncovered face. He said he wanted to marry her. His mother called hers. The couple is planning a family meeting to make their engagement formal, Ms. Alabdali said. It will be their first time in the same room.“I don’t have any doubt that he’ll marry me or is serious about me,” Ms. Alabdali said. Why so sure? Her older brother and his wife met on Facebook.”

I will be sharing a version of my proposal once it is ready for publishing. Stay tuned…