School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Dalia Thamin

Master's Student, Cultural Studies

Dalia Thamin

Dalia Thamin - A Journalist-Researcher Takes on #Activism

by Sharday Mosurinjohn
November 2015


Like anything that’s global and just about ubiquitous, social media is a mixed bag; yes, there are a lot of cat pictures and hashtags about caffeine (who among us doesn’t sometimes #NeedMyVenti?), but it’s undeniable that there’s also an energetic, ongoing, and public conversation about civic issues in the Twitterverse. Dalia Thamin, a Cultural Studies MA student, is studying just that. Thamin, who worked in radio and TV journalism in Canada and the Middle East for 14 years, is applying her experience in broadcast to examine how marginalized groups are using Twitter activism to talk back to mainstream media. 

Trained at the American University in Cairo, Thamin majored in Broadcast Journalism, though she was originally a Chemistry major! But journalism was in her blood – her grandmother was veteran journalist in Egypt who covered the presidential beat – and she soon began making a name for herself by producing and hosting for the first Arab radio station on the Internet. The joint online venture between Egypt and Lebanon was a clever way to get around the fact that private radio stations were illegal in Egypt at that time. “There’s always a way around censorship,” says Thamin, with a gleam of determination.

And that’s precisely the interesting thing about hashtag activism. When mainstream media’s news coverage misrepresents or underrepresents religious and ethnic minorities, those very populations can mount a timely challenge to the dominant voice. Thamin is specifically not looking “necessarily at groups or organizations but rather at any public reactions” involving “hashtags that trended [by exceeding 100,000 tweets] or made headlines” in response to mainstream media stories. These would be hashtags like, for instance, #iftheygunnedmedown, which appeared in the wake of Ferguson and were critical of the media use of an image of Michael Brown that was perceived to portray him negatively.

Thamin is taking advantage of the Cultural Studies program’s unique “project option” to actually interview people who have circulated such hashtags as well as the journalists they’re reacting to, and publishing a blog of these conversations. Having done a lot of coverage relating to diverse and immigrant communities when she worked for the CBC in Edmonton, Thamin knew she wanted to contribute further in some way, and that she also “needed a break to reflect on the industry, the profession itself.” The Cultural Studies MA offered exactly that opportunity.

The “series of case studies” featured in her project blog are structured around the simple, poignant questions of an experienced journalist: why did they decide to send their tweets? what was it about media coverage in that specific example that prompted them? and what difference it has made?

“I’m not the one who will draw attention to the ideas in the first place – that’s already happened – but I’m going to draw attention to the effect this social media conversation has,” explains Thamin.

And of course, this project is designed to garner some media coverage itself. Going into this degree, Thamin says, she knew she needed “to be genuinely passionate about the project” but that it also had to be something “strategically beneficial” in her professional field.

In the beginning, she “wasn’t sure what to expect” from Cultural Studies, but says she now likes the way it offers “freedom...within limits!” Working with a supervisory team of three exceptional media scholars – Dr. Susan Lord, Dr. Dorit Naaman, and tech maven Dr. Sidneyeve Matrix – Thamin enjoys the support to choose “the most appropriate way of doing my research question.” And in her opinion, “that’s beauty of Cultural Studies” – you can track social change by pointing to signs of change.

“A lot of people look at new media think it’s going to change the world, or ruin the world,” says Thamin, but her argument is that “it has limited impact in certain situations and that has value.” In some situations, people’s voices can be heard and in these cases, communication is power. “Looking at it from the power perspective between consumer and producer,’ Thamin says, she’s hoping to help strike a better balance.