Olaf Simons: Rumours have it that you are planning a temporary Facebook abstinence – can it be?
Hashem Al-Ghaili: Yes, that’s right. Due to work pressure, I have to quit Facebook temporarily for a couple of months. I think that’s what everyone would do at similar situations. This will give me some time to focus on my other stuff and come back with a fresh start and more enthusiasm. When I started sharing science on Facebook, we had only few pages that share science to the general public. But now, there are countless pages on Facebook that share science in various subjects, which makes me very happy. So, my absence from Facebook will not make any difference. However, Science Summary of The Week will continue to be shared on Sci-Tech, Reddit, Imgur, Tumblr and Pinterest and in various languages.
Olaf Simons: You are running two accounts on Facebook with enormous success
Hashem Al-Ghaili: Currently, I only run one page, which is my personal profile. A time ago, I created Sci-Tech page upon an advice from a friend. The page grew very quickly but the total reach of the posts started dropping very dramatically as Facebook started requesting for payments to promote them. Later on, I stopped sharing anything on Sci-Tech because I wasn’t ready to pay for something I do for free. Facebook gains money from our posts, so it would be pointless to pay them for our hard work. Besides, it was hard to manage two pages at the same time.
Olaf Simons: You turned your personal account into a platform for science news – how did this develop? Was it immediately clear to you that you would and could step from the private individual into the role of a science communicator?
Hashem Al-Ghaili: After I joined Facebook, I had only few friends from my local environment who didn’t actually care much about science. If I shared anything about science with them, the post would go unnoticed. So, I started adding people from other countries and sending requests to those whom I share interest in science with. It was easy to find such active people in many science groups. As their number grew, I started sharing science everyday and I got a positive feedback from them. We began exchanging links about recent breakthroughs and scientific facts on regular basis. Later on, I started making my own science infographics and promoting on various groups. People started following my page and the numbers are now very satisfactory to share science with them at anytime. While becoming a science communicator was unintentional, I knew from the start that I could switch my Facebook profile from private use into public service and do something useful with it.
Olaf Simons: There is, one might say, a market of science promoting pages on Facebook from Dr. Carin Bondar – Biologist With a Twist to I fucking Love Science. What kind of habitat is that? – one of competition, mutual inspiration, contacts and cooperation…?
Hashem Al-Ghaili: It depends from page to page. Some pages are sincere and share science because they actually care about educating people. Some others, however, do so because they want to gain profit by marketing science and turning it into business. The level of competition is not so high because the same content is shared repeatedly by all pages from time to time. Real competition occurs only when every page begins thinking creatively to make science more awesome to the general public by creating unique and new contents.
Olaf Simons: How does Facebook, the provider, interfere? After all: they can both curb and boost traffic – just as they are trying to get paid by people who run pages, whilst they are also interested in attracting successful non-profit presences that attract customers… Is there a point when Facebook knocks at your door with the note that you have reached a new level?
Hashem Al-Ghaili: Facebook does not play any positive role in this regard. Even a good post now can only last for a few minutes before it disappears from the newsfeeds, those who missed it cannot see it unless they visit the page and take a look at the Timeline. As part of their marketing strategy, this ensures that the administrators will be willing to pay Facebook to increase the total reach of their posts. It is one of many reasons why I moved to G+, Reddit, Imgur and other social networks and sharing sites. You don’t have to pay them any penny to go viral, you only need to share unique and interesting content and everything will work out just fine.
Olaf Simons: Your second Facebook Presence Sci-Tech is not a personal account but a “Facebook Page” with its own potentials. What do you make of the statistics you get as a page administrator? Where does your audience come from, what is the gender and age distribution? Is communicating the same on both pages?
Hashem Al-Ghaili: The first month after creating Sci-Tech, the statistics were great before Facebook played around with their new marketing strategy. Regarding the gender distribu-tion of Sci-Tech fans, 30% are females and 70% are males. Most of them are at age of 18-34 and come from countries like US, India, Egypt and UK. The scientific content that I share on Sci-Tech page is different from the one that I share on my profile. Because my profile will be deactivated for a couple of months, only science summary of the week will be shared on Sci-Tech despite the fact that I stopped sharing anything else there.
Olaf Simons: The fact you could personally turn into a web celebrity – was your name and origin helpful? – Helpful in a world that is looking for Arabian voices who break the stereotypes?
Hashem Al-Ghaili: I think that my background and my origin didn’t help much in this regard, my passion for science and my willingness to spare time and share it with others did. Fun fact, some people called me “terrorist” when they came to know that I am from the Middle East. May be they have never been exposed to Arabian personalities before. While I didn’t and I never aim to become a web celebrity, I hope my work is positively contributing to the society. One thing for sure, if you step out of your comfort zone, you will discover a whole new world. That’s when you break the ste-reotypes and set the goal to bring a positive change to the society.
Olaf Simons: Atheism is, one could say, rising on the same ticket with the evolution vs. creationism controversy as the natural alliance partner of the sciences. In your interview on Al-Rasub you spoke about the link of sciences and atheism. Is atheism rising on a global scale?
Hashem Al-Ghaili: Atheism is currently spreading everywhere faster than ever. People around the globe are becoming aware of the fact that ancient beliefs are tied to their time and not suitable for a modernized society. A society that is completely dependent on logic and reason in every aspect of its daily life. Take a look around you and see how far rational thinking brought us to in a shorter time than all ancient ideologies did in more than a thousand years. The connection between man and a supreme power is gradually fading but it would take decades before we see more people realize this fact.
Olaf Simons: Do you fear consequences of a rise of Atheism?
Hashem Al-Ghaili: No, I don’t. The only consequences I can see right here is that, people will start thinking rationally and the world will become a better place. The barriers that have been created by ancient ideologies over centuries will be demolished and peace will dominate. It is important to realize, however, that only through tolerance and education people will be led to the path of logic and reason.
Olaf Simons: Where did you get your rather global perspective from?
Hashem Al-Ghaili: The internet is where I got my global perspective from. It is what shaped me to become what I am today. Before I was introduced to the internet, I only knew my local community. We all had the same opinion about everything “We are the best and the world sucks”. Thanks to the internet, I got a chance to explore the world and realized that we are only a small fraction of a big world. A world waiting for me to learn more about it and inspire others about what I learned.
Olaf Simons: You are presently studying in Germany – does it make much of a difference where you live once you are part of the global scientific community?
Hashem Al-Ghaili: My experience here is different from any other experience I had before. Germany is among the world’s leaders in scientific and technological innovation. Scientists here are serious at what they do; they have strong passion for science and devote almost all their time doing science. Apart from that, German universities have got the facilities that we lack in the developing world. Equipped labs and advanced tools. While I am still in the process of becoming a scientist, I have a lot to learn before becoming an active member of the scientific community.
Olaf Simons: What’s your program for your stay?
Hashem Al-Ghaili: For now, finishing my Master studies is the first priority and the reason of my stay. Hopefully, I will go for PhD immediately if everything worked out very well.
Olaf Simons: Any ideas about the next place and position you’d love to fill?
Hashem Al-Ghaili: I am fascinated by astronomy. I want to end up in a place where I could someday flee Earth’s gravity, go out there and explore the universe. Perhaps, becoming an astrobiologist and working for NASA would help. The origin of life on Earth and the possibility of finding one somewhere in the universe fascinate me. Where did we come from and are we alone in the universe are some of the most profound questions we have ever asked, and I want to play a role in answering these questions.
Olaf Simons: Thank you for the interview
Hashem’s graduating speech 2015