Political, military, and economic news has always been a major part of the everyday life of any society. Even my family including grandparents on both sides and my parents always started and still start their mornings not with a cup of coffee but with fresh news, be it in the newspaper or a morning program on TV. Technological progress, innovations and modern inventions have affected my generation and, hence, most of younger people are no longer interested in such old-fashioned methods of getting information. However, for those who are interested in the latest development the Internet is always just one click away, especially the continuous information flow on social media.
In the past only official government organizations in the socialist countries and both official state bodies and private media moguls and press conglomerates in well-developed countries could provide information to big audiences. The late 1990s brought a major change giving almost every individual the power to post something on their accounts and every person the ability to see/read these posts. As much as it helps with spreading general news, it is even more vital for the problems which seem to be hidden or underestimated or taking place in some remote location. Social media are exactly the right instruments to influence huge crowds by reporting, describing, negating, supporting, and/or asking for sympathy. They do it fast, they do it everywhere and they are almost free (money- or control wise).
The latest widely known example of the power of social media affecting millions of lives everywhere in the world is the Black Lives Matter movement. It all started with one post on social media but led to long term protests in the USA and in Western Europe. The event itself in combination with the indignation caused by it has drawn a lot of attention to the issues of racism, re-emphasized the value of human lives and has forced a lot of people to reconsider their beliefs.
Notwithstanding the significance of the Black Lives Matter phenomenon I would like to talk about a different event that took place in my own country, Belarus, less than 2 months ago. On the 9th of August Belarus held Presidential elections. The officials claimed the victory of the ruling President, Alexander Lukashenko, winning with the majority of votes, over 80% while the opponent, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, got less than 20% of all votes. Having learnt about falsifications, forged bulletins and other machinations, people came out to the streets to voice their disagreement. That was when the nightmare started. The Internet was immediately blocked for three days with continuous blocking throughout the next month and a half. Communication with the whole world stopped. After the Internet was made available again (to a certain extent) people started to post videos and pictures of what was happening in the country during the first three days after the elections. It was specifically social media that allowed the world to learn the news about extreme violence, arrests, torture, and suppression of people. Facebook, Instastories, Russian Telegram became the instruments of truth and power. A lot of journalists from Belarus and abroad could not share anything because they were arrested and abused like everybody else, some had their accreditation taken away (including Deutsche Welle, ARG, etc). The Dutch reporter was wounded! with a rubber bullet on the election day and managed to flee away three days later saying it was the worst she had seen in life (though she had worked as a reporter in various countries including the likes of Afghanistan). Social media got flooded with photos of people killed, women and men with wounds, beaten, raped, and insulted in most barbaric ways. The reports about the falsification of the elections and violence against people became a major issue on the international arena. At the same time all Belarusian national TV channels and radio stations continued to celebrate the victory of the New (old) President describing the protesters as drunkards, prostitutes and hired mercenaries used by the West and the USA to overthrow the ruling regime. Mind you I, my mother, my grandpa who is in his late 70s, both of them are university professors and chairs of departments, we all took part in the marches against the rigged elections and with the claim to immediately stop the violence. Unfortunately, there have been no changes. It has been 43 days since the elections. People continue to organize peaceful protests using only flowers and flags and posters as their only weapon. People continue to get arrested and beaten. We cannot wear white and red clothes or accessories, they are considered to be symbols of protests, we cannot take photos, we must obey unidentifiable men in black uniforms and balaclavas who represent the regime. Official media continue to label us miserable stupid imbeciles. But people of Belarus continue to fight for democracy and truth, fair elections and ban on violence.
In such circumstances only social media and foreign mass media continue to spread the word and support the people in Belarus. Only through social media people in Belarus can learn that people in other countries, from Mozambique to the USA and Australia support them, organize marches, protest in front of the embassies, write petitions and letters of support and also collect money and offer all kinds of help to the victims of the regime.
So, the power of social media becomes evident and social media serve as the modern “problem solving establishment”.
Its great to get such a first hand report of the situation in Belarus. Thank you for that!
I generally also wish that social media is this tool for the masses, independet from the influence of specific political leaders and elites. It seems as if you may have uncovered/portrayed an example where one could say that it is.
However, past studies on the influence of social media on such events point to a polarizing effect, the use of social media as news source can have. But it seems as if the case in Belarus, as you described it, is worth an extensive investigation, regarding the topic of social media as tool for the masses.