Image courtesy of Sydney Allen via Canva

Social media is one of the most powerful information dissemination and communication tools available today. It can be used for good — uniting disparate ideologies and dispersed communities — or for nefarious purposes, such as disseminating disinformation, covering up corruption, propagating digital authoritarianism, or overpowering minority voices through cyber troops.

Whether it's uniting LGBTQ+ communities in rural areas who may not have opportunities to encounter those with similar identities or language activists using social media to raise awareness, support, and appreciation for their local minority language, social media is a crucial tool for connecting marginalized people. This is particularly true in areas where society may be biased or oppressive toward minority groups or identities, such as the Uyghurs in China. While the Chinese government strictly monitors and censors Uyghur discussions online and in social media, some activists have managed to use various platforms to build solidarity, further their cause, and inform audiences about the human rights abuses they face in China. 

However, given that most of these prominent platforms are run by for-profit, private-sector actors, the safety and longevity of these communication networks are tenuous at best. This was illustrated in 2022 by the seeming implosion of Twitter after it was bought by controversial billionaire Elon Musk, as well as the allegations of corruption against Meta (formerly known as Facebook), which has been accused of minimizing and covering up studies that its platforms harmed user’s mental health — particularly young girls and women. Additionally, numerous social media platforms are bowing to state pressure and adhering to state censorship and backdoor access policies, such as in Turkey, Russia, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Kazakhstan, and many more. 

To further complicate matters, state censorship combined with international politics and agendas means that some platforms are banned in some countries, and inaccessible without a VPN, but not others. Reddit and TikTok are both banned in Indonesia due to claims that the apps promote “pornographic” content. TikTok is banned in India because of a dispute between China and India. In December 2022, Jordan temporarily banned TikTok after a police officer was killed in a protest — believing it was a space or activists to gather and organize. And China has banned nearly every social platform besides its keystone Sina Weibo app, which undergoes intense moderation and censorship. 

However, for every instance of corruption and censorship on social media, there are also examples of community support and grassroots activism. Some are working to combat the capitalist and authoritative grip on social platforms by promoting other safer avenues for discourse. Amid Twitter’s confusion last year, Mastodon, an open-source, decentralized social platform, gained some ground, as developers sought to break the chain of private-sector social media. Others are making their own platforms, such as Colmena, which caters to Indigenous groups in Latin America or Africa.

Amid the ever-changing social media landscape, Global Voices hopes to highlight some of the unique, positive ways social media outlets can be a force for good in the world. That is why we are launching this social media series exploring how our diverse global newsroom uses social media and exploring its multi-faceted uses and implications today.

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