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Paula Yacoubian: The Future of Journalism Relies on the Interaction with People on Social Media

Celebrities Should Not Trust their Social Media Accounts with Agencies or Employees.

Paula Yacoubian is an established Lebanese journalist who currently hosts a prime-time political and social talk show on Future Television, Inter-Views. She previously hosted another show on Al Hurra TV and was part of the morning talk show Nharkom Said on LBC. Additionally, Paula is a media trainer and a political strategist. She has interviewed high-profile figures throughout her career, including George W. Bush when he was in office back in 2005.

I sat down with Paula to discuss her social media presence. Personally, I believe that she is doing a great job on her social media accounts and is among the best Lebanese journalists online. Very few use social media effectively, consistently and continuously.

You can follow Paula on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on PaulaYacoubian.

What motivated you to start using social media as a media professional?
I think that I started very very very late. At the beginning, I didn't know how the direct interaction with the people will be. I might have even had a low self-confidence, especially when it came to a direct confrontation with the public. Being in the media, I had to question if I am doing right thing when it came to politics or my views about Lebanon or the sectarian state that it is in. I was afraid that I will have to deal with things that will annoy or upset me. In addition, I was worried that it will take a lot of my time on the expense of reading. That was what worried me, and it actually happened, especially since I became this active on Twitter and Facebook. I found that my time on social media is taking time from the serious work that I am supposed to do, but I am enjoying it!

So how were you able to balance between using social media effectively without wasting a lot of your time?
I am trying hard to manage my time between reading and being active online and interact with my followers. Sometimes, beyond my control, I feel that I am not being active as I want to be because I have to catch up on important readings that are necessary for me to keep up to date on the situation for my work.

How do you deal with nonconstructive and hate messages on social media?
I have no problem with hate messages; I don’t mind a person with an opposing opinion, even if his opinion is hateful. However, what annoys me is when they start creating groups that spread lies. Recently, there was a campaign against me on social media that was based on statements that I did not say and I am actually completely opposed to. I would never say anything that can remotely be classified as sectarian. I grew up in a family with different religious backgrounds. I firmly believe that for Lebanon to become a civilized country, we should campaign for interreligious marriages between the Lebanese families. That way, the new generation will respect other people and their opinions more and be more open-minded. The campaign that was launched against me contrasts all my beliefs, and anyone can verify this by going back to old tweets of mine, especially those relating to my opposition to the Orthodox law.

How do you fight these campaigns then? And how do you raise awareness that what is being said about you is based on lies?
Once this campaign was launched, I had to check who was behind it. I realized that the people involved have a dirty background on social media, in a way that instead of communicating with you, they swear at you and harass you, they slander everyone who has an opposing opinion from the president, political or religious parties or even civilians, but they glorify and godify their political/religious leaders. I did not feel there is a need to respond to such a campaign because I did not want to bring more attention to them or advertise them.

But many people on social media are not aware that you did not say those things. How do you make sure they know that you are a victim in these situations?
90% of the information that you are bombarded with every second on social media is either wrong or inaccurate, but it is very easy to verify the information online by researching. People who believe things they read on the internet blindly, I let them be. At the end, I cannot reach out to everyone individually and explain to them what is happening.             
On my behalf, I try my best to expose people to the truth through social media and television. Ultimately, I cannot force-feed people the information and whoever doesn’t want to know the truth, then I cannot change his/her opinion. Of course, I have announced before on my show that people should be careful about what they read on social media, but I cannot do anything more than that.

Do you think there should be a limit on freedom of speech on social media, especially when it comes to unconstructive criticism or hurtful behavior?
I am highly against limiting people’s freedom on social media. When you are on TV and expressing your opinion, you have to have thick skin and accept criticism. There are some people who curse and use inappropriate words online. These people only represent themselves and do not represent their community, and I usually ignore them. I do get a lot of polite criticism and I do converse and discuss their opinions online. This is how I make friends online, even if they have opposing opinions that will never change. I respect everyone’s right to express his/her opinion in a respectable manner, and I encourage them.
I don’t even block people. Out of all the incidents that I encountered, I only have a couple of people blocked because, over time, I got disgusted by the things that they are saying. I don’t block people who criticize me or have an opposing opinion, because I believe it’s their right to express themselves.

What is your favorite social network and why?It is definitely Twitter. It is by far the most powerful social network. It is getting users accustomed to being concise and precise, and that is what I love the most about Twitter. In the end, a stitch in time saves nine. (خير الكلام ما قل ودل.)

Tell me about your social media team, because I notice that you tweet while live on television, so there must be someone who is helping you.
You’re correct. The people who help me include Rana Zantout, she is one of the people that I trust the most. She is my close friend before anything else. If I couldn’t trust her, I cannot rely on her with something this personal. Additionally, Sahar Agha helps me by live-posting and live-tweeting when I am on television, but the main admin is definitely Rana.

Other than your personal relationship with Rana, did you choose her because she has experience in social media?
Actually, neither Rana nor I have social media experience, but I can rely on here because I have complete trust in her. Even if you tell me that you are going to hire the most experienced social media consultant for me, I would tell you that it can only be someone that I can trust, knows the way I think and knows my audience very well.

Is it Future TV’s policy for its anchors to be on active on social media or is it a personal choice?
It is a totally personal choice. When I decided to embark on the social media journey, I was well aware that I was going to investing a lot of my own time, regardless of the work that I do for Future.

What was Future TV’s reaction about social media presence?
They were very supportive. But I wish that the people who are handling the social media channels of Future TV to be better and more active. Additionally, I wish that they would care about the whole team equally and not favor some over others. Nevertheless, I always try to support the channel’s social media presence as much as I can.

There is a prevailing opinion that traditional media is dying slowly in favor of social media, because the public’s participation in these media (TV stations, radio stations and newspapers) is very limited. On the other hand, social media gives everyone the chance to say what they want to the world. What are your thoughts about this?
I don’t agree that traditional media is dying. On the contrary, traditional media and social media complement each other. For example, when I see on social media that people are highly interested in a certain topic, I would try to discuss this topic on my show. Additionally, through social media, we are able to connect to people that we might not be able to reach otherwise. Social many has opened my doors for the conventional media to know what people like and dislike. This helps journalists improve the way they approach topics. Sometimes you notice that people are tired of heated political discussions and are more interested in humanitarian or societal topics, so we try to shift our discussions to suit their tastes. The conventional media can now follow what the audience want through social media. I’m not only receive valuable feedback from social media, I am also able to brainstorm and research topics.
A great example is martyr Mohammad Al Chaar. If it weren’t for social media, people wouldn’t have known so much about him and his personality. If it weren’t for his selfie before the explosion, the media wouldn’t have noticed him as much as it did.

As a journalist, who do you follow on social media from the journalists, bloggers and online community members in Lebanon?
I try to follow many people from diverse backgrounds on social media. From the journalists, I like to follow Shada Omar, Ibrahim Daoud, Maryam Al Bassam, etc… There are a lot of people that I enjoy following and that is why I don’t like naming some, so that I don’t forget any.
I think bloggers are also an important resource because they provide a different perspective on the media. There are a lot of people who are not journalists but are very talented in this field, and sometimes more talented than actual journalists. In Lebanon, there are a lot of respectable blogs, one of them is Beirut Spring, which I enjoy reading. I try as much as possible to follow Lebanese blogs and search for new ones.
Bloggers and the online community are a great resource for news. It is true that Lebanon is a small country, but there are a lot of events going on and news worth sharing. Traditional media might not be able to pick up on all of it. When people on social media decide that a topic is news-worthy, the conventional media has to succumb to discussing it. When the conventional media stops following people’s tastes and interests, it will eventually cause its doom. At the end, you have to cater for people because they have a lot of choices. In Lebanon, they are not obligated to watch a specific station related to the governing regime. On the contrary, they have a lot of options and if you are not interesting enough for them, they will simply change the channel.

How do you control your personal information and personal life on social media?
I try sometimes to include a little bit about my personal life in my posts. But I have to be careful about posting things that people might not be interested in about my life. Every few months, I can post a photo of my son and me, but if I do that all the time, people will lose interest. Sometimes, I try to post recommendations about books that I read and movies that I see in case my followers like to know more about my interests.
I also have my personal Facebook accounts, other than my page. For now, I have two accounts that are both maxed out at 5,000 friends, and it upsets me that I cannot add more due to Facebook’s limitations. I like to add people who which to connect with me on my profile because they generally prefer being a friend of mine rather than a follower. However, the content on both, my profile and my page, is almost the same.

What languages do you use on your platforms? And who communicates with you the most?
Mostly, I like to communicate in Arabic. As for my audience, it is diverse, from many countries. Yet, the most interactions I receive are from Lebanese. Therefore I use Arabic especially that I do get requests to post in Arabic from Arab countries. I do use English sometimes. When someone asks me a question, I usually reply in the same language that he/she used.
I think Arabic is a beautiful language and it is the language that I am 100% fluent in, despite that I was French-educated. I like to encourage the new generation to use it more often on social media. If you tweet in English, it doesn't make you “cool”, you can still have cool tweets in Arabic.

What about the tone that you use on social media? Do you prefer it be formal?
That is not necessary. A lot of times, I use the spoken language. When an idea come to mind in colloquial Arabic, I like to tweet it without trying to convert it to Fus’ha because it loses its essence. For example, when I commented about Maryam Nour’s statement that gum is made from used condoms, you cannot really use a formal language.

When you publish a post, who do you have in mind? Who do you think will read it?
Honestly, I post what I feel at the moment. When I wrote a tweet “بكفي دم لبنان” [enough blood in Lebanon], it was really from my heart, especially when I saw the victims of the explosions a few days after New Year.
What I usually post is either expressing my opinion, answering a question that was asked or mentioning headlines from guests on the show.

Do you recommend for other journalists to take this step and be active on social media?
I definitely encourage them to take this step. The most important thing nowadays is to connect to your audience and listen to their opinion. It is crucial to see their reaction for an episode or any incident that happens in the country. This is how journalism evolves. Ideally, journalists represent the general public. They are held responsible for relaying the news truthfully or provide accurate and undeceiving analysis to the public. Every public figure has some sort of influence on people and they should use this influence to make their country better. Social media is the platform that can help journalists influence their audience and cause a positive change in their society.
Actually, the future of journalism relies on this interaction with the people on social media.

Any tips that you can give to your fellow journalists who want to take this step?
I am not an expert on this topic, so I cannot give technical tips. Actually, I find that a lot of other journalists are better than me on social media, so I was surprised when you requested this interview to discuss my social media presence.
What I can say is that for people to go on social media, they have to love doing it and love communicating with the public. You cannot hire a social media agency to run your accounts. As a public figure, you cannot trust them to say things on your behalf. Even with my social media team, I am the person who responds to all the questions and messages, and I cannot leave this task to anyone. I’m sure that the majority of celebrities have a person or an agency that runs their accounts. It very evident, when you see a celebrity that is not fluent in other languages tweeting in flawless English for example. This might be a good thing for their image, but the person or agency might not represent them very well.
So if you are planning to be on social media, you have to take full responsibility of your account and post ideas that will reflect positively on journalism, not negatively.

So you wouldn't hire an agency to get you more followers, for example?
I am definitely against this idea, even though most celebrities use their follower count as a matter of prestige, but we all know that their followers are bought or fake. I am on social media to represent myself to the audience that chooses to follow me.

A version of this article has appeared as a cover feature of the February issue of Cloud961 magazine. You can read the full issue here.