Social Media: How Digital Activism is Changing Civil Rights Protests



From the riotous mob that broke into the Capitol building on 6th of January this year to millions of people protesting in Russia, India, Myanmar and different parts of the world for their rights and against injustice; there is one common thread that has and is fueling more power into such protests and demonstrations; The Internet and social media.

In recent decades along with connecting people all around the globe, social media have done one revolutionary a thing, it has given voice to the voiceless. The digitalisation of activism is powering thousand of protest. Social Media have these days become a platform for social activism and it is transforming the world, let’s explore the power of this immensely influential tool.

How social media and activism together outspread protests in the past

With the upraise of social media, demonstrators have got a platform to appeal to more people to come together and protest against the wrong. Plenty of protests sparked from one small area has grown into revolutionary movements with the help of internet. Below are some of the movements that caught global conversation and turned into massive movements nationally and internationally.

Arab Spring

A decade ago, massive protest emerging from Tunisia transformed the Arab world, bringing down autocrats, sparking civil wars in Yemen, Syria and Libya. It all started after a 22-year old man Mohammed Bouazizi, blazed himself up in front of a government building.

Arab Spring soon turned into a movement that spread throughout the middle east. Infuriated by unemployment and poverty, young protesters took to the street demanding a complete transformation of the system. Utilizing social media for organizing protests and spreading awareness of political instabilities in the country along with documenting the ground position of protests.

According to Arab-American Medias’ ‘The Role of Social Media in Arab Uprising’; social media played a crucial role in the Arab revolt. Networks of protestors were formed online which organized the core group activists, especially in Egypt. Freedom of speech and civic engagements formed through the internet played an important part as journalism in the uprising.

Pages and group were formed on various social media site especially Facebook for gathering more protestors and sharing information about the protests and demonstrations. Study of Arab Spring discloses that with the help of the internet, protestors were able to reach a larger audience because of the online mobilisation. Sharing the information on internet converged international media’s attention and soon the issue became a global interest; which for the most part protected protestors from the violent reaction for the autocratic regimes by building global pressure.

Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter is one of the most recent examples that used social media especially hashtags like #BlackLiveMatter to combat police brutality and anti-black racism targeting the African American population in the US. With the proper use of social media and hashtags, the protest started over the death of George Floyd became a global outrage against injustice with the black community in America and all over the world.

Patrisse Khan-Cullors, an American activist and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement; strategically created the hashtag #BlackLiveMatter. The proper use of this hashtag made the small protests an international movement.

According to the Pew Research Centre between July 2013 and May 1 2018, #BlackLiveMatter is already being used more than 30million times on Twitter only. Slowly gaining initial moment, it is now used on daily basis. During the protest, this hashtag was used in demonstrations, discussions, stories and speeches. According to the study, the hashtag was used more in matters of:

  • Violent acts
  • Discrimination on grounds of race
  • Fatal police-involving encounters
  • Protests
  • Activist events
  • Law enforcement actions

The use of hashtags and social media helped in sharing awareness about the going on discrimination with black community.

Pro-Navalny protest in Russia

Alexei Navalny, Russia’s only opposition leader’s arrest and jailing have sparked an unprecedented protest amongst Russians. The new generation of protestors are harnessing social media to spread their protest to maximum poppulation and internation media.

The Russian government on the other hand also knows the power of the internet and therefore is trying their best to cut the ties of protestors with the world. Till now more than 80 journalists have been detained for covering the protestor or for live broadcasting them through different social media site. The strong retaliation of security forces against independent journalism paints the country’s’ hollow democracy picture.

But despite suppression of independent media; Russians are turning towards international social media outlets including TikTok, Telegram, Facebook, Instagram etc for reporting and sharing information.

The end to end encryption facilities provided in most of the messaging apps; is helping protestors to arrange protest without getting into eyes of online spies of the government; says Russian human rights activist and blogger Oleg Kozlovsky.

Social Media: how powerful is it?

Social Media without a shadow of a doubt have amplified the protests all around the globe with the help of the more coordinated and organised group. Online activism has become more common and no rights abuse can stay hidden for a very long time. But the downside is that these platforms have also made spreading misinformation and hatred easier than before; the most recent example of this is the Capitol riot.

If used correctly Social Media can help promote social justice; it can be a tool to uplift stories and voice hence strengthen the demand for justice; that the world is in more dire need than ever.


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