Social Media: The Saviour of Human Rights Movements?

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Any Generation Z baby can easily confirm that social media has become an essential force in their life. It’s their main method of communication, their main source of information and their main means of entertainment. It’s no surprise then, that many individuals and organisations take advantage of the fact that social media is widespread and transcends borders, to promote their ideas and values.

One of the most significant effects social media has had on campaigning is the ease with which one can rally support behind a cause, particularly in the cases of human rights violations. While in the past, dictatorial regimes and other oppressors could freely take advantage of minorities and disrespect many significant freedoms without any accountability, in the new age of social media it’s easier to uncover their wrongdoings and condemn them worldwide. This can be attributed to the fact that content uploaded online can potentially be used as evidence of war crimes and human rights violations. This occurred during the Syrian Civil War where first-hand footage of atrocities such as beheadings was uploaded to YouTube and shared via Facebook and Twitter, and seen worldwide. Furthermore, during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, pro-government forces and separatist rebels shared posts on social media and during recent protests in Paris, members of Gilets Jaunes have been sharing their testaments of events.

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Additionally, due to it being unrealistic to regulate platforms on the internet, many social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook have become fundamental in promoting free speech and expression. Many oppressed groups now have the opportunity to learn about their human rights and what they are legally entitled to. Many choose to voice their discontent and seek support from others who face similar situations.

Furthermore, due to the fact that social media can award anonymity to its users, anybody from any corner of the world can express their views and stories without fear of condemnation or loss of personal security. Realising this, many nations like China and Pakistan have attempted to provide barricades towards accessing social media platforms and skewing anonymity to reveal the true identity of their users. As a result of this David Kaye, a United Nations special rapporteur stated that:

[The] prohibition of anonymity online interferes with the right to freedom of expression…

Unfortunately, governments widely oppose campaigning and opposition forming on social media and have historically attempted to thwart users’ efforts to condemn them. As a direct consequence of their actions, the not-for-profit Bahranian organisation Majal launched a website called CrowdVoice.org that specialises in the archiving and preservation of content created by social movements.

Credit: https://majal.org/ [Public domain]
It’s incredible what social media has achieved in terms of providing vulnerable people and marginalised minorities with a voice to challenge their leaders and fight for their rights. Even though many go to great lengths to prevent this from happening, social media is an anarchic force that cannot be easily monitored and regulated but can provide a platform for the bringing to justice of abusers. This, in the midst of a confusing and dangerous time, is social media’s greatest strength.

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