According to the data portal, there are 4.33 billion social media users across the globe at the beginning of 2021, which equates to more than 55 percent of the global population. A typical user spends an average of 2.5 hours using social media each day. Added together, the world spends nearly 1.2 million years of human existence on social media each day.
What can these numbers do with human rights? This makes social media one of the most popular digital activities in the world. Certainly, social media is considered as an expansive platform where various issues can be brought up and raised awareness.
In 2016, UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Centre launched the Human Rights Investigation Lab to discover and verify human rights violations and potential war crimes. Here, the students are given training on finding, analyzing, and verifying information on social media i.e.; posts, photos, and videos.
The HRC Lab collaborates and contributes research reports on investigations by Reuters, the Associated Press, and many other world newsagents, which can be eventually presented to the United Nations. One of such instances is where the lab helped in investigating the crimes against humanity that terrorize Myanmar. 122 incidents showing Myanmar security forces killing people and using their bodies to terrorize protests were found by analyzing various fields in social media.
Social media gives groups like the HRC Lab access to a huge variety of open source information and documentation of Human Rights violations.
Also, there is a significant rise in social activism, commonly known as ‘hashtag activism’ in recent years. Hashtag activism is the act of building up public support through social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram with the help of relevant hashtags.
Here are some of them,
• #BlackLivesMatter is one such hashtag movement that has seen wide international coverage. The use of #BlackLivesMatter hit record levels amid global protests over George Floyd’s death while in police custody. On the 28th of May 2020, nearly 8.8 million tweets contained the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag – making this the highest number of uses for this hashtag in a single day since the Center started tracking its use. This analysis also highlights how the use of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag often increases around major news events related to race, violence, and criminal justice.
• Whether you’re male or female, it’s more likely you know about the #MeToo movement as it needs no introduction. It’s a popular social movement against sexual harassment and abuse that first appeared in 2007, which was initiated by a sexually abused survivor, Tarana Burke. This hashtag has been used more than 200,000 times by the end of the day.
• The United Nations initiated a solidarity movement for the advancement of gender equality, better known as #HeForShe, in 2014. The organization invited Emma Watson who became UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador and spread the word about the problem.
Moreover, Social media accounts pushing back against headlines and interviews is making mainstream media more cautious.
Amani al-Khatahtbeh, author, activist, and founder of MuslimGirl.com, tweets loud and proud:
For the first time mass media can't control the narrative around Palestine.— AMANI (@xoamani) May 11, 2021
No one can hide the abuse from social media. Our phones have become our biggest weapons. The power is shifting right before our eyes.
Please DO NOT underestimate your impact.#SheikhJarrah #Jerusalem
It’s also worth noting that the Israeli state certainly is watching. It is becoming afraid of the power of social media. As this tweet points out:
The official Twitter account of Israel has also even resorted to cyberbullying Bella Hadid, an American model who has spoken up at length for Palestinians.
If that’s not evidence of social media being powerful and creating an impact on Human Rights, then what is?
Narrowing down to the dark side, Social Media has some downsides when it comes to Human Rights.
According to a study in 2019, researchers found that falsehoods are 70% more likely to be retweeted on Twitter and will reach 1,500 people six times faster. There are a few reasons why this might happen, including the simple fact that disinformation tends to be more interesting. When it comes to an emotional area like human rights, people are more likely to share without fact-checking because they want their communities to know they care. Taking time to research and make sure something is accurate doesn’t align with the high-speed pace of social media.
Online harassment is the next big problem. Human rights activists have always faced threats, but social media makes them vulnerable in a new way.
This represents the other side of the coin of social media and human rights: it can defend them, but it can also threaten them. Looking at both sides of the coin, the key is to see social media as just one tool of many and think before you share. You are responsible on which side the coin flips! The good or the bad? Decide before it’s flipped.