Yes, there's trolling, abuse and pile-ons. But social media can also be used to share experiences and fight for justice—we shouldn't forget thatby Jodie Ginsberg / January 10, 2019 / Leave a comment
Here’s a thought. What if in 2019, 30 years since the invention of the World Wide Web, we all resolve to do more to harness its power for good, rather than feed off and focus on its dark side?
Increasingly, users—and governments—view the internet as a place of danger from which we have to be protected: a den of gangsters, a haven for trolls, a world full of risk and danger. (The fact that the UK government is now calling its internet safety strategy “Online Harms” is a case in point).
While it is true that the internet, and social media in particular, have unleashed new ways for the criminal and the nasty to operate, the narrative that paints online space as nothing more than a fetid pit ignores, and potentially risks undermining, its benefits.
The story this week of Saudi teenager Saudi teenager Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who tweeted her demands for asylum after barricading herself in a Bangkok airport hotel room, is a case in point.
“I wish you had taken her phone”
The plight of the 18-year-old, who argued she faced death if she returned to Saudi Arabia, was picked up in real-time by prominent activists like Mona Eltahawy and quickly escalated into a global public online furore that forced governments and UN agencies into action.
The comments of a Saudi official who flew to Thailand to deal with the case are telling. “I wish you had taken her phone, it would have been better than (taking) her passport,” he told Thai officials.
Changing hearts and minds
Platforms like Twitter can unleash mass pile-ons that result in vile abuse being directed at individuals, or those seen as belonging to a particular group.
But that same mechanism is what helps appeals for help or support spread at lightning speed and offer vital solidarity and positive action. It is what has helped sustain and spread movements like #MeToo or Zimbabwe’s #ThisFlag movement, giving courage to those who previously felt isolated and alone.
And while we are quick to decry social media as too much of an echo chamber, it can change minds too.