Social media has come to be one of the most powerful tools for disseminating news, events, advocacies, celebrations, and many other issues concerning human lives in the 21st century. However, despite its advantages, it is also used to disseminate hate speech and to promote fanatic ideologies and issues not corresponding with peaceful cultures and positive moral values within communities. To that end, it paves the ground for humiliation, deepening ethnic division, and dissemination of false and unconfirmed news that leads to fear and harassment.
In my organization, social media is widely used mainly for press statements and updates on activities—a tool for spreading information to a wider community about what our organization is doing. Whenever there is a public report, especially ones related to human rights, or statements on issues related to peace or human rights, or campaigns on the elimination of violence against women, key messages are posted through social media. These posts include important points reflecting on why people should be concerned and the due responsibility of the government to promote and protect human rights, including its responsibility as a member of the international community and conventions. Such postings are done very carefully to avoid any hatred or misinformation. It is also being used as an advocacy tool, reflecting the stand of the organization for democratic values when it faces huge resistance.
For example, since the recent changes in my country, which affected half of the population, mainly women and girls, meetings with women's rights actors are constantly being posted as a sign that the human rights of women still must be protected. Similarly, those in the media are under increasing pressure. Many outlets have closed. Posting on social media is a way to support traditional media. This is an important way to promote transparency, trust-building, and freedom of expression, all of which must be protected and promoted. Despite this, thousands of civil society actors and media professionals have left, fearing reprisal if they stay in the country under the current regime.
At the same time, at an individual level, using social media as a tool to promote certain advocacies is becoming increasingly difficult. Individual social media users are careful or have limited the scope of their activities. Reflecting on or reacting to the shortcomings of the government has been the favorite topic for social media users. Everyone was trying to be first to get the attention of the wider community. However, in recent months, such an approach has been largely impaired, and social media users have been exercising much caution to avoid being followed or persecuted for their reflection. To that end, self-censorship has resulted in limited access to information and a lack of freedom of expression.
Similar to social media, mass media is also experiencing huge restraints. There are several reports that some of those in mainstream media have stopped their activities. Those that are still operating have observed major changes in the way they operate, especially in terms of program quality. This is mainly because most of the qualified media professionals have left the country, while those who remain are being cautious for their and their fellow professionals’ safety and security. The leading media, once popular among the community, have lost their popularity among local fans. Entertainment programs, especially those that are targeting the younger population, have been discontinued. These changes in mainstream media somehow have pushed people to rely on social media as a means for entertainment.
Social media had previously been an essential tool when there was a need for advocacy and calling out the shortcomings of the government in terms of protecting against human rights violations or when discriminatory policies were adopted, such as the education quota system. At the moment, since the rule of law is not yet established, social media users are afraid of being subjected to extra-judicial punishment or persecution. Hence, social media has lost its impact compared to just five months ago. I hope that, once again, social media will play an important advocacy role and a means for freedom of expression.