Turning #BlueForSudan: The Impact of Social Media

Following the overthrow of President Omar Al-Bashir, the Sudanese population took to the streets of the capital, Khartoum, to protest the military takeover and demand a civilian government. In recent weeks, these demands have been met with violence, leading to hundreds of injuries and deaths, over a thousand displaced and many men and women raped. The Sudanese military government has also organised an internet blackout with the objective of preventing a mass organisation of protests through social media and limiting the ability to raise awareness of atrocious government actions. Despite these efforts, the Sudanese crisis has become breaking news worldwide through online movements such as turning #BlueForSudan.

The #BlueForSudan movement started following the death of Mohamed Mattar, who was shot while trying to protect two women from the government forces, and whose favourite colour was reportedly blue. The movement began with his family and Sudanese individuals changing their profile pictures to the colour blue and using the hashtag, which grew into an international phenomenon over all social media platforms. This online movement has been effective in raising international awareness of the Sudanese crisis, which is lacking traditional media coverage. Many individuals, I included, only learned about what is happening in Sudan through #BlueForSudan. The movement also serves the purpose of standing in solidarity with Sudan and all those who have been violently killed. A young Sudanese professional, Aza Elnimah, writes that, “In the beginning, it felt like no one cared … but now, it’s refreshing to know that Sudan is on people’s radars.”

However, social media activism can create an abstraction between the cause and the movement, where individuals feel that participating in the movement alone is enough to aid the cause. While #BlueForSudan is effective in raising awareness and standing with Sudan, it does not provide real aid to those who are being violently killed, nor does it put an end to the military government.

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Due to the internet blackout, it has been difficult to gain first-hand updates on what is happening in Sudan. Thus, the Sudanese diaspora in contact with their families in Sudan have played a big role in spreading news on social media. Furthermore, the lack of Western media coverage of Sudan has led many to use social media as a source of information, thus proving its power to inform as #BlueForSudan has now spread internationally. The spread of news about Sudan on social media demonstrates many people’s rejection of the selective coverage of Western media, thus social media users take on a collective responsibility to give those who have been silenced a voice. The trending movement also puts pressure on international aid organisations, traditional media and governments to acknowledge the Sudanese crisis. It is due to the demands of individuals on social media that aid programmes have been set up to help those in Sudan. A Change.org petition to the United Nations, which has been shared on social media, has almost 400,000 signatures. Furthermore, fundraising campaigns that work directly with local Sudanese volunteers have been set up through social media to provide help to those in Sudan. Social media has therefore proved its power during times of political crises, by not only spreading awareness, but also inspiring campaigns to provide aid. While individuals hold limited power over governments, people have collectively come together on social media to do all they can in order to make a difference.

The #BlueForSudan movement has been highly effective in raising awareness about the Sudanese cause. Many people learned about the crisis through this movement, which inspired people to stand in solidarity with Sudan and discover ways in which they might provide aid. Journalist Nesrine Malik writes, “For those who ask how to help Sudan, the answer is by… aiding the Sudanese people in getting their message out during the blackout.” However, to inspire real change, people must pressure their governments to not remain quiet when thousands are suffering during a humanitarian crisis. While social media movements have a significant influence, it is only through governmental and intergovernmental organisations’ interventions that Sudan will move forward.

Sara Abdulnabi

 

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