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Power Conflict: Traditional Governments vs. Social Media

The recent decision by the Egyptian Tax Authority to apply income taxes on social media influencers is creating a hot debate. A huge number of Egyptians, of all ages and backgrounds, are earning a living by creating media content on YouTube and Facebook platforms in particular. There are no solid statistics on how much money they make. But, to put things into perspective, it is important to notice that almost all famous media personalities who worked on traditional television stations for years, have been moving their work to YouTube.

Egypt is not the first country to try to control social media bloggers, by applying taxes. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is considered a haven for social media influencers from all over the world, applies an income tax on online content creators. In March, the UAE Federal Taxation Authority decided to apply an additional value-added tax (VAT) on the products received by bloggers from outside the country to try and promote on their social media pages.

Even in the United States, where the whole business of social media companies started, about fifteen years ago, the federal government is taking indirect measures to collect taxes from Youtubers, who work from outside the United States. Earlier this year, Google-owned YouTube warned content creators that starting July 2021, the company will cut a tax of 24%, due to the US government, from the revenues of YouTubers, especially those working from outside the United States.

Since the beginning of this year, at least, several governments worldwide have taken unprecedented measures to control the growing number of citizens creating media content on social media platforms. This could be easily counted as part of the larger battle, that has been going on for at least five years, between social media and traditional governments.

This conflict reached a peak point in 2017-2019, when international campaigns, online and offline, were launched by vague sponsors to encourage young people, who represent the majority of consumers, to boycott social media. These campaigns went as far as claiming that social media platforms can damage mental health and steal lives. At one point, they held social media accountable for letting Trump win the American presidential elections in 2017, claiming that Facebook manipulated the voters.

Ironically, most of those who were advocating for boycotting social media platforms, at that time, are social media rats. They are connected online for their entire waking hours. Their audience and followers knew about them through social media. If it was not for their intensive, and sometimes intrusive, presence on social media, no one would have noticed they ever existed.

In 2020, those anti-social media campaigns proved to be a big scam when social media platforms became the only way out, for most humans on Planet Earth, during the long quarantine months, imposed by governments to control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. People would have gone crazy if they could not communicate with their loved ones, during these tough times. In today's world, social media platforms are the primary source of news and the fastest form of communication. Avoiding social media, in our age, is similar to asking people to be willingly paralyzed and easily controlled.

If there is one thing that democratic and dictator governments may agree on; this thing will be the need to put the brakes on citizen’s use of social media. If there is one thing the majority of citizens worldwide agree on; this thing will be the unlimited power social media has given to them to move the world their way. Personally, I have seen social media empowering women in conservative communities to fight against systemic social and government oppression. I was one of the many young activists, who brought down dictators during the Arab Spring revolutions, by using social media to deliver our message and mobilize supporters. I have also seen social media helping refugees, fleeing Middle East civil wars and terrorism, and saving their lives.

The wide array of conflicting interests between social media owners and users, on one side, versus traditional structures of government, on the other side, has created a vicious cycle that is getting wider and more complicated by the day. However, this ever-evolving conflict is, in essence, a conflict over power between an old system of traditional governments and a new system of uncontrollable content creators on virtual platforms.

Also, read on The Levant


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