Hannah and Colleen explore the difficult and sometimes humorous world of social media in Iraq. If you’ve never had a new Facebook friend go through all ten years of your photos and comments and like or comment on every single one, you should check this out! If you have… that’s weird. But join us anyway to see your social media posts in a new light.

And for a little recommended reading and context:

  1. Iraq takes action against bogus social media posts
  2. Media, Women, and Honour: Cyber Violence Against Women in Iraqi Kurdistan

Learn more on our Iraq Page!
Ask questions about this episode or life in Iraq on our social media or by email to hannah@servantgroup.org. We’d love to hear your thoughts and questions!


Here’s a rough transcript of the podcast on Social Media!!

Hannah: Welcome to “Between Iraq and a Hard Place”. I’m Hannah.

Colleen: And I’m Colleen.

Hannah: And we’re going to tell you about our life in Iraq.

Colleen: It’s going to be fun.

Hannah: I hope so.

Hannah: So this week we’re talking about social media!

Colleen: All the media!

Hannah: All the social media. But before we get started, disclaimer if we sound different it’s because we are recording this in the blanket fort that we made in our living room. So if you hear some background birds or, you know, another mysterious voice, it’s not ghosts. No, you’re not going crazy. It’s just that we happen to be at home while we’re recording this.

Colleen: Onto what is more important here, really.

Hannah: I mean, social media is the wave of the future, Colleen, or the present.

Colleen: I feel like it’s more of the wave of the present. I mean, it could be the wave of the future, but I don’t like to predict the future.

Hannah: That’s probably, probably for the best. I don’t feel like we need to explain social media. But just as a stopgap, if you don’t know what social media is. Facebook is social media. Instagram is social media. Snapchat. That’s another pretty common one.

Colleen: And then some that are more common in Iraq that are less common here.

Hannah: Oh, TickTock.

Colleen: Oh, right. TickTock. That’s a thing. But the ones that are more common in our international communities are things like Viber, Telegram, WhatsApp. I’m sure there’s another one, but I can’t keep them all straight. I have so many on my phone.

Hannah: There are a lot. And they’re used pretty much by everyone of a certain generation, much as they are in the US. And most of our most of our students had at least had Facebook accounts, even ones that were too young to be on Facebook. Most of my students probably had Instagram. A lot of them have Snapchat, a lot of them communicate on Viber. There’s like a Microsoft one… Facebook messenger is a really popular one, too. So this is not like an exclusively Western thing. It’s really common. But they do use it differently than most Americans use social media. I mean, if you use Facebook the way that I do, I just read what other people post and laugh at them, not out of mockery just because I have funny friends.

Colleen: I also kind of rarely post, but I also don’t know if that’s a result of living in the Middle East.

Hannah: True.

Colleen: And how I protected myself.

Hannah: Good teaser, Colleen. We’ll come back to that.

Colleen: Weird things we do.

Hannah: Yes.

Colleen: Because I know a lot of my friends who do post more often, share more often, you know, are maybe more typical of Americans.

Hannah: Right. Yeah. Where you kind of like, share what’s going on in your life. Post pictures of your kids.

Colleen: I mean, we don’t have kids so?

Hannah: That’s true. That limits us.

Colleen: Mostly I post my weird random craft projects.

Hannah: Sure craft projects. But your Facebook is in your name.

Colleen: It is.

Hannah: And it has a picture of you.

Colleen: It does. So does yours.

Hannah: That’s true, please don’t look me up on Facebook. Most of our students, at least initially when Facebook started to become popular there. That’s not how they created Facebook accounts. Again, because a lot of them were too young. So they already were lying about their age. So they might as well kind of make up everything else.

Colleen: Yeah. I had lots of students who were Marvel characters.

Hannah: I had a lot of Justin Bieber’s. Some Renaldo’s.

Colleen: Oh, yeah. Soccer players were pretty common as well. Some cartoon characters. I’m pretty sure I had a SpongeBob square pants.

Hannah: One Direction was another popular one.

Colleen: I don’t think I had any One Direction folks.

Hannah: So that’s not only their picture, but sometimes their name is associated with whatever their picture is.

Colleen: Spider-Man. I had a Spider-Man.

Hannah: And you never. Like, you just don’t know who that is.

Colleen: And my favorite is I would get friend requested by one of my students. And, you know, it says Spider-Man. And there’s a picture of Spider-Man. And I wrote back to them and I’m like, Who are you? They’re like, It’s me, miss. And you’re like, That doesn’t help me. Or the next day, miss. Why didn’t you accept my friend request?

Hannah: Because I don’t know who that is. I feel like there’s this ingrained. Like you don’t just accept friend requests from whoever.

Colleen: Yeah. There wasn’t really that in at least the student culture.

Hannah: Right. And so having to explain that to students. Was in some ways a good teaching opportunity to be like, look, if you want to be friends with me, you got to represent who you really are because I’m out there representing who I really am on social media. So you should, too.

Colleen: So you were friends with some of your students on Facebook?

Hannah: On Facebook I was friends and still am friends with a lot of my students. Again, which is part of the reason why I post less. But yeah, and I will say when my students got into high school. Most of them switched over and created a Facebook account that was their name. And maybe not a picture of them, but at least like their name and where they lived. So that made life a lot easier. Yeah. Any any student or fellow teacher who Facebook friend requested me, I accepted, with a few exceptions of like I don’t know who this is.

Colleen: Right. Obviously.

Hannah: A lot of students though, because of that, would either forget what their Facebook name or what their email address was that they used for that because they’re just creating like throwaway email addresses. And so if they forgot their password, they couldn’t get back in their Facebook account. They would just create a new account and then friend request you again. And you have to go through the whole rigmarole again.

Colleen: So, yeah, I think both of us probably have slightly padded friend numbers.

Hannah: Well, I go back through, delete them.

Colleen: I can never know. I like I can’t figure out which ones are real and which ones are not or which ones are current and which ones are not. And like, how do you know if who… That person’s name used to be.

Hannah: I mean, I just go through and like, how recently did this person post. Not recently enough. Goodbye. But that’s me.

Colleen: Wow. You’re brutal.

Hannah: It is. I haven’t got time for that. Yeah, but so you get multiple requests from multiple people. Or like one student request to be your friend. And then all the students they are friends with would find out who you were through their account. And then you just get flooded with 20 requests in one day.

Colleen: And then, like their siblings and their friends also request you. And you’re like, I don’t know any of these people.

Hannah: NOPE! I don’t feel like I ever had students be like this. My friend requested you; they were pretty understanding about that. But, yeah, one of the reasons, especially for the girls. One of the reasons they don’t have their pictures up is a little bit twofold. One, they worried about getting their Facebook accounts hacked.

Colleen: Which is more common there than I feel like I’ve ever heard about it being in the U.S..

Hannah: Yeah. And I don’t I’m not sure if that’s because they’re not good at creating secure passwords or … I don’t know.

Colleen: Computer viruses or computers or just Wi-Fi security here.

Hannah: Yeah.

Colleen: And so, you know, normally that’s not a huge deal. Even as an American, if your Facebook page gets hacked because people figure out like you’re posting weird stuff, oh, it must not be you, but because at the time at least, social media was so new. People just assumed that like this, this girl is now posting all this weird, inappropriate, culturally inappropriate stuff. It’s bad for her reputation.

Colleen: Right. I heard, well, stories and had students who had their face from their profile photo or a photo in their account stuck on, you know, a scantily clad woman or that kind of thing that, yeah, would be really damaging for their reputation.

Hannah: So those are kind of the two reasons. I guess we only said one, actually. One is hacking. The other one is there’s kind of this idea. And I feel like we’ve talked about it maybe a little bit before about the evil eye, that if you talk about how beautiful someone is or if you’re proud about your physical or monetary gifts, you draw the evil eye and bad will come to you.

Colleen: Because people are jealous.

Hannah: Because people are jealous. And so a lot of them won’t post those kind of braggy-ish pictures out of fear of of other people becoming jealous. Yeah, because they don’t want people to be… not that they don’t want people to be jealous necessarily. It’s more that they don’t want to draw attention from this evil eye idea and have evil, then force them to pay the consequences of their pride.

Colleen: Yeah, essentially a little hard to explain because in the Western mindset, there’s this kind of cause and effect in a linear sort of way that we think of things. Whereas for the Middle Easterner, most often it’s much more circular. And things that go around come around kind of mentality. And so the way they think about it is much more all kind of all inclusive. These things are all just tied together in a ball.

Hannah: And that’s part of the reason that one of the more popular apps that gets used is Snapchat, because you post a picture and you can set a limit for how long it’s available. So you can either post it publicly and it’s gone within, I think, 24 hours. Kind of like Instagram stories does now. Or you can send it directly person to person. And that person only has a limited amount of time that it’s available to them.

Colleen: And then eventually it disappears.

Hannah: It disappears in. I mean, I think my limit is like five seconds or something. Snapchat will also tell you if they take a snapshot, screenshot of your picture of the conversation that you’re having. So that actually has become my primary way of communicating with my students, because you can also video call over Snapchat. And I really like that. It seems really, really useful.

Colleen: I think I have also used Face Time because iPhone products, Apple products are also pretty common in the phone category, not in the computer category, but like iPhones. And WhatsApp also has a video chat feature that is pretty common to use.

Hannah: Yeah, I found that I had to start limiting, like I will talk to you over Facebook, Viber, or you can text me when I was in country or now you can Snapchat with me because everyone is on just all the platforms and it’s exhausting to try to remember who you’re talking to, where.

Colleen: And also, the sense of what you communicate to people can be really different. There’s a lot of emojis, a lot of “Hi” without like any purposeful conversational direction. That took me a while to get used to.

Hannah: My favorite is I have one friend in particular that consistently sends me Rose stickers.

Colleen: O! Rose stickers are very popular.

Hannah: Yeah. And I think it’s sweet. It’s it’s kind of nice just to off track a bit about emojis. Sometimes it can be really nice to have those when language, especially written language, is difficult. That you can send, you know, a heart emoji and that communicates, “I love you,” without having to write out those words that might get misinterpreted or might not be read at all. Or a smiley face or you know, whenever. I like emojis. As long as both parties understand what the emoji means. But it’s very easy to get overwhelmed by all those platforms.

Hannah: We interrupt this podcast for a very important message. We need more teachers in Iraq. So if you’re listening to this, you must be somewhat interested. Please go to our website and get in contact with me and I can tell you how we can make that happen. Thanks. www.ServantGroup.org/Iraq

Colleen: It can also be easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of engagement on those platforms.

Hannah: Yes.

Colleen: Especially right after you’ve become friends with someone. It’s very common for our students or other Middle Eastern teacher friends and other friends that we have, to go back and look through your entire Facebook or Instagram history and like or comment every single thing you have ever posted.

Hannah: Yep.

Colleen: And suddenly you open up your Facebook and you have, you know, 200 some likes and 15 comments and you think, What has happened? And it’s all from one person.

Hannah: If you don’t go back and reply to those comments, some people are offended by that. And not just like two one. You have to respond to every single one.

Colleen: It’s exhausting.

Hannah: It is exhausting.

Colleen: I don’t think I’ve ever met a Westerner who’s done that.

Hannah: No. Like, how creeped out would you be if you met someone, like in a professional setting and you became Facebook friends and they went back all the way? You know, however long you’ve been on Facebook. Eleven years, I think now. Gosh, we’re old! …and liked every single thing that you posted.

Colleen: At this point I might wonder if they’re actually Middle Eastern.

Hannah: Right. Like in normal people’s lives…

Colleen: Oh, come on now!

Hannah: That would be extremely odd.

Colleen: It would be. It would be. Like I can’t imagine doing that to someone.

Hannah: And I think part of it is, did you have teachers do that to you?

Colleen: Yes.

Hannah: OK, see, I only had students do it to me. And so I was ready to write it off as like teenagers who have too much time online kind of thing.

Colleen: I mean, I can’t say I don’t think all the teachers did and not even all the students. But I would say most of the students did something like that.

Hannah: You can’t reciprocate that either because they’re not posting pictures.

Colleen: Or even if they are posting, you know, random superheros. Or scenery. I don’t want to spend the time to go back and like all of their posts.

Hannah: We use Facebook for a little while for study groups. Or as a way to, like, communicate about different projects that were happening at school. It was never great for that. Because some students’ parents wouldn’t let them be on Facebook. And some students would join that group and then not be able to get back into their account. And then you have to…. Yeah, it was it was too messy.

Colleen: There were some class groups, but I don’t know that they were ever used for anything really official. Other than occasionally updating about, you know, a picnic or sharing photos from a picnic or updating about graduation or some sort of class party or event that was happening.

Hannah: I think a lot of that got moved to Viber groups and those were better. Because Viber is linked to your phone number. So it’s a little bit more stable and everybody has a phone so it works. So I have almost all of my students as friends on Facebook. For Instagram though, I don’t have any of them. I don’t allow any of them to follow me on Instagram. Part of that is part of SGI is staff policy. And part of it was my personal choice. I needed a space that was just I would be able to post whatever I wanted to without thinking about it too hard. Not again, not that I’m posting anything scandalous or inappropriate, but, you know, I wouldn’t have to, like, think through how is this going to come across to my students?

Colleen: Right. Because, again, if you have people and students who are going to look through every post, they’re coming from a different cultural perspective. They’re looking at it with a different mindset and different assumptions than most of your American friends are. And they may notice things or use information in the photo that you didn’t even think of, to ascribe meaning or something to you. So maybe you go to a fancy restaurant and you don’t even drink any alcohol, but there’s a bar in the background of your photo. It could be assumed that, oh, you went to the bar and had drinks and therefore you’re a drunken, unreliable person.

Hannah: Or you post pictures with your arm around your brother and don’t explicitly say, this is my brother. There’s kind of that assumption of like, oh, you’re touching a boy. Yeah, it’s scandalous. And, you know, like for me, growing up doing summer staff every summer, I have loads of pictures of me in very modest bathing suits or shorts and a tank top. And that wouldn’t fly in the Middle East. It’s not appropriate, an appropriate thing to wear there, but it is here. And it’s like, do I really want to go back and have to, like, undo all of those pictures from my whole life and limit what my friends are allowed to tag me in because it might not be appropriate for…

Colleen: …that throwback photo of you at the beach might end up making a parent of one of your students you know, absolutely scandalized and, you know, complain to the school. Not that any of us have ever had that happen.

Hannah: It’s true. But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Is that how it goes.

Colleen: That’s one of your favorites.

Hannah: It is. One of the things that I have done on my Facebook, which is more public, is I’ve really cranked down like who can even request to be my friend on there and who has access to what pictures on Facebook. If I get tagged in a post, it comes to me first and I have to approve the picture before it is visible to my friends.

Colleen: And so all of these things are things that we talk to our staff about. And, you know, before they head over to teach and explain to them. And so sometimes we recommend that our staff, if they don’t want to go through their old Facebook photos, we recommend that they just, you know, lock that one down, secure and start a new one.

Hannah: Which is the thing that I did. But it’s a lot of work to manage two Facebook accounts. And so I ended up just getting rid of the Kurdistan one and super locking down my personal Facebook.

Colleen: Facebook hadn’t been around as long when I first went. And so I don’t I mean, I don’t think anyone warned me or even knew that Middle Easterners were going to react differently to Facebook and social media than Americans. That’s definitely a learning process. But at this point, I’m really grateful to have Facebook and to have had all of those connections made with students and teachers and neighbors and friends. And I still occasionally get random messages from different students and different memories or something they found in a keepsake box that they remember or, you know, they pull out some paper that they wrote in fifth grade. And so it’s it’s really wonderful.

Hannah: Yeah, I, I have students that I wouldn’t otherwise hear from that will comment on something that I post. I like to occasionally post things about subjects that I taught that are like, Hey, I know you guys are all in college now, but here’s some information about logic that I thought was super cool! And hearing back from them about their perspective now, has been… it’s really neat. It’s really neat to watch my students grow up that way. And it’s not something that I think would have been possible without social media.

Colleen: Yeah, I have been so excited to learn and to follow them as they’ve accomplished things. Like I just found out yesterday that one of them is now a doctor!

Hannah: Which is so cool!

Colleen: And another one is doing groundbreaking research in batteries that I couldn’t explain to you because I don’t understand it.

Hannah: So there’s definitely a lot of good that comes out of that platform. I think it’s also been a great tool for keeping in touch, especially when I was living in Iraq, keeping in touch with my supporters back in the U.S., because while they probably couldn’t call me, they could send me a message on Facebook or, you know, I could post pictures of my house. It’s kind of instant feedback in a lot of ways. And so it’s a really great tool for that as well. I know Snapchat. I already talked about being able to call my students and just talk to them, hear what’s going on in their lives, you know, in an international call for two hours is outside of my price range.

Colleen: Yeah, but with a little bit of Wi-Fi!

Hannah: With a little Wi-Fi on both ends, it’s painless. It’s really great. So, yeah, we’re not here to say social media is terrible. It’s been super beneficial.

Colleen: Yeah. I mean, it’s got pros and cons and needs to be used wisely. I think probably like any tool. But it’s been something that’s been really valuable for us.

Hannah: Yeah. Yeah, and I I can remember taking a class in college, and talking in that class about how, you know, maybe the Internet is a new way to connect people all around the world. And we’ll just have to wait and see. And thinking through now, I wouldn’t be able to connect with so many people if the Internet, if social media didn’t exist. So it’s definitely something that we’re thankful for. It gets a bad rap sometimes, which it’s got its downfalls. It’s definitely a good thing in a lot of ways.

Colleen: Yeah! So our challenge for you in this episode has to do with you and your social media.

Hannah: You know, the typical thing that would happen right now would be for us to say, go and follow us Servant Group International on Facebook and Instagram.

Colleen: Which we recommend; we do.

Hannah: But we’re not going to be trite and plug ourselves that way. It’s just Servant Group International on Facebook and Instagram might be beneficial to you, I don’t know. Try it out! But but the real challenge…

Colleen: … and more importantly, and I think more interestingly? I don’t know. more personally?

Hannah: Nothing’s more interesting than Servant Group International on Facebook and Instagram.

Colleen: Ok. Thanks. It is for you to take a look at your social media timeline and your posts and look through them with the eyes of what someone might notice who is not an American, who is not from your culture. Look into the backgrounds. Look into the connections or relationships between people. Look at your clothing. Look at the things that maybe you would take for granted otherwise and see what you find!

Hannah: And if that sounds like it’s not really up your alley. The other thing you could do is go on your friends’ Facebook pages and just like things from like 11 years ago, just go back and like every photo, comment on every post and see how many people ask you, what is going on?!

Colleen: Yeah, if you do either of those things and have thoughts on them, we would love to hear how that how that works out for you.

Hannah: Yeah. And how can they get in touch with us?

Colleen: They can find us on Facebook or Instagram.

Hannah: Under what name?

Colleen: Servant Group International.

Hannah: That’s right.

Colleen: Or you can email us.

Hannah: Yes, you can.

Colleen: At Hannah@servantgroup.org.

Hannah: That’s Hannah with two H’s, two A’s, and two N’s. You’re gonna hear this all again in a minute.

Colleen: That’s OK. Repetition is the key to learning.

Colleen: We’d love to hear from you. You can find us at Servant Group International on Facebook or Instagram, and you should check out our blog and complete transcripts over at ServantGroup.org.

Hannah: And it’s really helpful for us if you share our podcast or leave a review on whatever platform you listen to this podcast on. It helps us know that people are listening. And you can let us know what you want to hear next.

Both: Thanks for listening.