February 7, 2023

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Social media’s rocky ride through conflict zones

Facebook was hailed during the Arab Spring revolts, but its reputation was later tarnished.
Facebook was hailed all through the Arab Spring revolts, but its popularity was afterwards tarnished.

PARIS: When Yarema Dukh established up Ukraine’s formal Twitter account in 2016, he understood that social media was the ideal way for his place to get its information out.

“We by no means experienced the indicates like the Russians to identified multinational media like RT or Sputnik,” the former government communications adviser told AFP in excess of the cell phone from Kyiv.

Given that Russia’s comprehensive invasion last thirty day period, the Kyiv govt has used social media to emphasize atrocities, problem messages of defiance and even share a joke or two.

Youthful Ukrainians have made use of TikTok to chronicle lifestyle under Russian siege and tech fanatics have commandeered Telegram channels to organise donations of cryptocurrency.

On the other hand, Russia has introduced an onslaught against Western tech firms and all but finished no cost speech on the web.

The Ukraine war marks the growth of social media in conflicts from a software of the outsider to a truly ubiquitous existence.

But the tortuous heritage of its relations with protest movements and governments — from 2011’s Arab Spring to Myanmar now — indicates Ukraine will have to fight to hold on to its gains.

– Amplifying the message –

Back in 2011, Fb was much from the behemoth it is today and Twitter barely registered in several nations around the world.

“We were preventing to carve out a room in the margins,” mentioned Hossam El-Hamalawy, an Egyptian activist who grew to become a popular voice through the Arab Spring protests.

The revolts throughout the Middle East and North Africa became identified as the “Facebook revolution” but the jury is however out on its total function.

Hamalawy reported social media’s authentic electrical power was not as an organising tool but as a way of amplifying the message.

“I understood that anything at all I wrote on Twitter would get picked up (by mainstream media),” he instructed AFP from his property in Berlin.

In the early 2010s in Ukraine, Dukh claims the most preferred social media was a blogging system identified as LiveJournal.

But then a journalist posted a message on his Facebook in 2014 promising to launch an anti-governing administration rally if he received 1,000 replies.

When he bought plenty of replies, he went to Maidan square in the coronary heart of Kyiv and introduced a protest that brought down the professional-Russian govt.

The publicity also assisted Fb turn into the number just one social network by far in Ukraine.

During this period of time, the US tech big was content to embrace its affiliation with outsiders and protesters.

Firm boss Mark Zuckerberg wrote in 2012 that the agency was not intrigued in gains but instead in empowering folks to have out social transform.

Nevertheless, social media organizations have been presently in a a lot much more elaborate place.

– ‘Extremely naive’ –

Burmese journalist Thin Lei Gain explained 2012 was the second when Fb “turned the web” in Myanmar.

“All the things was on Fb and all people was sharing every thing,” she advised AFP.

But some of the messages remaining shared had been incendiary, spreading fake info that stoked violence involving Buddhist nationalists and the Muslim Rohingya minority.

By 2018, a UN rapporteur known as the platform a “beast” and accused it of inciting racial hatred.

The wheels arrived off in Egypt much too, wherever faction fighting among the protesters on the street was mirrored by bitter feuds on the internet.

Protest chief Wael Ghonim, whose Facebook messages experienced helped to galvanise the movement, explained to US broadcaster PBS in 2018 that he soon grew to become a focus on of on the internet disinformation.

“I was very naive,” he stated, “imagining that these are liberating instruments.”

Meanwhile in Ukraine, the Maidan revolution was also turning sour.

Moscow had utilized it as a pretext for annexing Crimea and sowing unrest in Ukraine’s east.

Dukh, as a new recruit in the government’s communications workforce, discovered himself battling Russian troll farms.

– Three-finger salute –

Activists in Arab Spring international locations now lament how the platforms they once lauded have been retooled to provide the potent.

A team of NGOs wrote an open up letter to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube previous yr accusing them of supporting repression by systematically shutting accounts of dissidents across the area.

In Myanmar, a army junta seized energy in a coup early previous calendar year, ending many a long time of liberalisation.

Dissent immediately spread throughout social media with the 3-finger salute borrowed from the “Starvation Online games” movies proving popular.

But Slender Lei Win mentioned the authorities had been conscious that Burmese men and women have been enthusiastic sharers and started halting individuals in the streets and demanding to see their telephones.

“If you had posted everything on your social media important of the junta or supportive of the NUG (Countrywide Unity Govt) you could be arrested,” she mentioned.

– ‘Whack-a-mole’ –

Facebook and other platforms closed accounts of the Burmese generals soon just after the coup and, in accordance to Skinny Lei Gain, set up platforms have hugely improved their record with disinformation.

Slim Lei Acquire and activist teams level out that the generals have given that hopped on to other networks and their messages nonetheless get through.

“It can be like whack-a-mole, you near anything, anything else pops up,” claimed Skinny Lei Gain.

Youthful organizations like TikTok and Telegram have been criticised for continuing to host Burmese military propaganda.

In Ukraine as well, TikTok and Telegram have each been accused of failing to deal with Russian disinformation.

But Dukh, who still left the Ukrainian governing administration in 2019, continues to see the optimistic side of social media.

He stated Ukraine experienced learnt lessons from its yrs of dealing with Russian disinformation and could share them with the world.

“We are great learners and I hope immediately after the victory we are going to be fantastic academics as effectively,” he claimed.