Updated: Nov 6
Author: Amina Zekovic
Date of Publication: 20/09/2022
Living in the 21st century means being a witness to rapid technological development. It is not a bold statement anymore to argue that technology, and especially social media, is ruling people’s lives. It seems like it is an obsession the human species has developed in recent years. This somehow makes them feel obliged to share every aspect of their lives online for others to see and know. The original intent for social media was to be a fun place that enables people to simply connect with the ones they know. Today it has a much more valuable purpose. In the modern era, it can be argued that social media is the main information channel. A majority of people rely on social media applications to discover information regarding any possible topic – even one as significant as human rights.
Positive Sides of Social Media
Now, the relationship between human rights and social media is a “double-edged sword”. As much as there is potential for social media to advance human rights and gather support for its principles, it can very easily sabotage that promotion as well.
Primarily, social media argues for one of essential human rights - the freedom of speech. Online, everyone has the ability to express themselves in any manner they desire. People can share their opinions and views on different matters and find like-minded people all around the world. This allows them to create connections and build networks, as social media does not know geographical limitations.
Furthermore, as mentioned a bit before, social media is a “starting point” for information. It allows for the viral spread of any information. Nowadays, it is possible to find any piece of data needed in a matter of minutes. Similarly, it is possible to “push” information to go viral anywhere in the world. In the connection to the sphere of human rights, this is a significant advantage. This refers to those fighting against a corrupt and controlling system. For example, they can publish information to the wider audience asking for help and support.
This, in turn, leads to another important service that social media can offer to human rights activists. There will always be topics that are not that popular. This might be due to them being seen as “taboo”, or people not being familiar with them. Therefore, most social movements, assemblies, and demonstrations gain their popularity online. One of the most popular movements up to date must be the #MeToo movement. It started solely as a phrase in 2006. But in 2017 it became a symbol of demanding justice for women. It became a symbol of fight against sexual harassment and exposing anyone that support such shameful actions.
Negative Sides of Social Media
Moreover, social media is a place that gives vulnerable people a voice. It allows them to speak out against any injustice they may experience but it can also act against them. The main problem with social media is that false information spreads faster than the truth. According to studies, this is connected to the fact that fake information often is more interesting. So it comes with more excitement than what factual information would offer. Another aspect is that there still exists a number of dictatorship countries that heavily control the media within their territory. Therefore, it is extremely easy for them to publish whatever updates they desire.
In such circumstances, it is of utmost importance to be able to distinguish whether that data is correct. However, people tend to lack patience to fact-check the data they are reposting. It is more important to entertain the race of who is going to be the first in a community to share the news and publicize their support. Spending time conducting research and checking that the shared data is accurate then seems as redundant.
Such actions often lead to individuals feeling like they contributed to a cause or a movement. Social media has fooled people into contributing to the whole “fake activism” agenda. It made it easy to believe that liking or sharing one post makes a substantial difference in the world. So, most of the time, online campaigns die down after some time due no practical action in the real world.
And lastly, the most important and most dangerous “side-effect” that social media has in relation to human rights is online harassment. Human rights activists, journalists, and basically anyone daring to speak against injustice will face harassment. This means receiving death threats online, simply because of the principles they promote. Thus, it can have a serious impact on their mental health but can also put them in life-threatening danger.
To conclude, the modern age is definitely not a perfect one. While technology does make our lives easier, it can also have grave consequences for people. At this point, the relationship between human rights and social media is a complicated one. So, social media needs such a topic to add depth to its existence and prove it is not just a fun website. Human rights activism requires social media to advance its causes and reach a wider audience. However, moving forward there has to be more strict regulation about what can be published and shared. There also must exist a filter of fake news in order to prevent the misleading of the population and allow for positive change.