How Social Media Has Affected Human Rights Movements

Social media has changed the way countless people live their lives. Despite the best efforts of marketers to try and turn these mediums into a business free-for-all, the beauty and power of social media shins when people come together over things that concern them. Whether it’s an effort to stop a company from bowing to pressure from vocal minorities (think JC Penny and Ellen DeGeneres), or a campaign to end tiger poaching, social media can effect real change.

One of the best examples of this power to effect change comes from human rights campaigns. A stunning example of social media in action occurred during the Arab Spring of 2011. Despite near total media control by the authorities in such countries as Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, they were unable to stop word of the protests and repressions taking place from being posted via Twitter or Facebook. With no journalists allowed free access to areas controlled or contested by activists, the world relied on social media to provide case after case of human rights abuses by the governments of these countries. This is still the situation today in Syria, where the Assad regime restricts media access to the areas held by the rebels. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts such as @Revolutionsyria post short, timely messages on conditions in the country. Using the hashtag #syria on Twitter brings up a constantly updating stream of information. As always with social media, caution must be shown in many of the posts, but human rights activists are finding it much easier to get their message across today.

Amnesty International is embracing social media campaigning. Senior Director, Widney Brown warns social media’s role can be exaggerated, but calls it a “diffuse solidarity” where people can show support for human rights activists and also register their concern. Says Brown “it’s a tool we need to learn to use as intelligently and securely as possible”. Amnesty has launched the Social Media Action Center, which coordinates timed releases of social media messages on a given theme. This makes it easier to gain trend momentum, raising the profile of the campaign immediately.

Now the United Nation is getting involved. At the end of 2011, it launched a social media campaign to raise awareness of human rights issues globally. As social media evolves, one thing is certain: human rights campaigns will take advantage to get their message to the watching world.


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