The role of social media in bringing social justice

A Palestinian woman flashes the victory sign as volunteers and municipal workers clear the rubble of the Hanadi compound, recently destroyed by Israeli strikes, in Gaza City's Rimal district, on May 25, 2021. The Arabic hashtag on her scarf reads "we will rebuild it". / AFP / MAHMUD HAMS

Millions of people all over the world are protesting in solidarity with the Palestinians amid the recent “extreme settler violence” that has begun in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Many are asking how they can actively help, spread awareness and promote the spirit of solidarity around them and across the world.

Well today, more than ever, every human being anywhere in the world has a massive source of power in his/her hands to confront social injustices and help in preventing violence anywhere in this world. It is the social media that gives every individual a bigger space for influence than he/she ever realizes.

Social networks engage people as dynamic actors who can express themselves and control the process of communication and social change, unlike traditional media that make them passive recipients of information and news. These people-driven participatory media tools are very important to marginalized people and communities who are targets of stereotype and bias and have no alternative way to voice their suffering.

First, besides being user-friendly, social media has made communication easier not only in how many people it can reach but also how far the word can spread and how fast the violent acts can be unmasked and the truth unveiled. What was once a stereotype, a taboo or a silent issue that has long kept people suffer in silence, has become a worldwide issue that communities and people can now know about and act upon.

In this regard, what Israel has long been doing from oppression, violence to apartheid on Palestinians in the dark, and that may sometimes be timidly or falsely highlighted in the traditional media, can now be openly exposed to the whole world through a small and tiny device as a smartphone.

Every oppressed individual has now the power to create awareness about the social injustices committed by others, starting as fast and easily as writing a post or posting a video on Instagram or other social network. As such, the video that went viral of George Floyd being killed by a racist policeman has been the engine of the campaign “black lives matter” that forced the oppressors to at least think twice before committing any racist act.

Likewise, there is so much within that one-on-one solidarity with the opressed or that confrontation against the oppressor that would not have been possible without the use of social media. And people now are becoming more aware of the politicization of the major traditional international media, such as CNN, the Washington post and BBC to name a few, especially on controversial conflict issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They are even exposing the biases and misleading information that these big media channels often produce to support or even justify the oppressor.

The Israeli apartheid on the Palestinian civilians is not new. Since its occupation in 1948, Israel has long been abusing the Palestinians in every aspect of their daily lives. We have known nothing much of its aggression, except for some clashes every now and then whenever the media decides to post about it.

Nevertheless, social networks have opened a new way to approach this conflict and others, creating an opportunity to establish social justice and hold the oppressor accountable. How? First, it is reflected in the fact that people undergoing any form of violence are now able more and more to mirror their experience and feelings.

Those in conflict areas are able to express how the conflict is experienced on a personal level, unlike most of the conventional reporting. The coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the majority of the mass media for example, is centered only on incidents and acts of extreme violence that happened every now and then, without sharing the continuous daily suffering of the Palestinians as individuals and as communities.

Second, in such conflicts with uneven power dynamics, the voice of the oppressed is often unheard or removed, while the mainstream media coverage is dominated by the more powerful party. In this case the social media provides an alternative media to reflect the different points of views of both sides, especially the oppressed whose voice is usually masked, unveiling the truth about what is really happening and destroying all the stereotypes and biases created by the oppressors or their media supporters.

Third, social media provides a useful tool for youth activism, expression, empowerment and advocacy for the oppressed, amplifying their voice and calling for freedom, justice and dignity. And that's what fueled the Arab uprisings back in 2010, where Arab youth were behind the anti-government and anti-corruption protests. Whether they succeeded or failed, the fact remains that Arab youth have proved that their voices matter and are heard, and that it is not easy to surpass them anymore.

Despite its many discrepancies and its no-filter nature, social media has offered a chance for the mass, especially the people who are often misrepresented, intentionally or not, in the traditional media, to reveal their suffering and to expose the nature of their abuser. It has certainly opened our eyes and conscience that social injustice can be confronted and exposing it is a major step.

Dima El Hassan is a consultant at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development.





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