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ONLINE ACTIVISM UNPLUGGED: Advocating for Human Rights in the Digital Era



[AI generated image of an actvist with a megaphone]

Activism has always been an important asset of human rights advocacy even before the

digital era. Because human rights violations have always existed with various contexts and

governances. Individuals and societies have seeked justice and have tried to protect their

rights and values by standing up against injustices, inequalities and so with different ways of

activism such as mass protests, small gatherings, publishing and distributing manifestos etc.

Since we are living in the digital age now, the emergence of online activism as a powerful

tool for human rights advocacy is inevitable.The widespread influence of this activism in

transforming the way social justice issues are addressed at different levels- local and global-

is undeniable. From social media campaigns to virtual protests, the internet provides a

dynamic platform for individuals and organizations to amplify their voices, mobilize support,

and hold authorities accountable. This virtual revolution in activism has democratized the

dissemination of information, enabled real-time responses to human rights violations, and

fostered global solidarity.


On the other hand, digitalization gives more power and authority to the decision-makers for

ruling the governments, political parties, public institutions or for making the promotion and

P&R of their products in social media platforms as private sector actors like big global

companies and their executive boards. In other terms, online platforms are political

propaganda tools for state actors and profit increasing tools for the big global companies

more than activism tools. When it comes to political propaganda, regulations of social media

by censorship or spreading disinformation contents about socio-economic or socio-political

issues against the opponents of the government and controlling the speed of the internet

connection are the most used ways by the governments or the political parties that aim to

win the elections. This propaganda method is preferred especially by the states that have

authoritarian or questionable democratic regimes and political parties that aim to be the

majority with their deputies in the parliament and at the ministries in order to manipulate the

populations in favour of their politics and their interests. The elections are vivid examples to

observe political propaganda better by censorship and spread of disinformation. For

instance, a recent survey conducted about the elections by UNESCO and IPSOS proves the

significant impact of disinformation for the results of elections. 87% of respondents

expressed concern about the impact of disinformation on upcoming elections in their

country, with 47% being "very concerned" [1].


The 2016 US elections are also another example that should be mentioned to see how

social media can affect the election process and the perception of the voters.During those

elections, social media marketing and fake news played an important role for the victory of

Trump. Social media marketing and fake news were used for rapid dissemination,

influencing public opinion and political advertising like other elections in other countries. The

first difference of the social media usage for this election is the active usage of Twitter by

Trump during the election process to contact directly with voters. Second one is the

dissemination of a conspiracy theory against Democrats : Pizzagate conspiracy theory. The

allegation, which is false, is that Hillary and Bill Clinton used the Comet Ping Pong pizza

restaurant in Washington, D.C., as a front for a paedophile sex ring; the back room was supposedly used for kidnapping and trafficking children [2]. This story was spreaded very fast in country and worldwide and its costs for the opponents was to lose elections against Trump.

Nowadays EU politicians and citizens are getting ready for the upcoming EU elections.

Again, social media has an important place for these elections. As mentioned before,

authoritarian politicians prefer to use social media to manipulate voters and in EU elections

the far-right uses it exactly for this aim. They are spending a significant budget to spread

their ads and other propaganda-related materials in social media platforms to reach both

young and old generations. Hungary is one of the EU countries that has a far-right leader

and spends its election campaign budget in this way. Just looking at Google activity in the

last 30 days, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán splurged north of €60,000 on one

ad.With spending of between €60,000 and €70,000 in the last 30 days, Orbán’s appears to

be the most costly political ad offered in the EU by the search giant as campaigns reach their

closing weeks [3].

To conclude, the digital era has pros and cons for human rights activism and politics. The

digital era facilitates and strengthens human rights advocacy via reaching different people,

human rights actors in significant quantities with social media platforms. However, the digital

era is perceived also as a legitimization and manipulative tool by authoritarian regimes and

political parties that have authoritarian tendencies via spreading fake news, misinformation

and conspiracy theories. For this reason, it would be better to be kept informed from various

sources provided by several human rights advocates and institutions to prevent being

misinformed and being manipulated.



References

IPSOS.(2023, November 7). Elections & social media: the battle against disinformation and

and-trust-issues

Samuelson, K. (2016, December 5).What to Know About Pizzagate, the Fake News Story

know/

Schickler, J. (2024, May 28), Revealed: the far-right EU election ads flooding social media,

election-ads-flooding-social-media


Written by Gozde Ones

 

Gozde Ones is a Human Rights and Multilevel Governance Masters student at the University

of Padova who is writing her thesis. At the same time, she works at an African NGO focused

on women’s rights and climate justice. Her goal is to work in the human rights field

supporting women’s and vulnerable populations’ rights in climate change scope. Follow

Gozde on LinkedIn: Gözde Öneş and Instagram @gozdeones

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