In a natural follow up to my post earlier in the week about Twitter being used by oppressive states to target dissent, “Knowledge Ninja” – Internet Haganah pointed me to the new Atlantic article “The Strange Saga of a Made-up Activist and Her Life – and Death – as a Hoax.”
Essentially, an “Uzbek woman Gulsumoy Abdujalilova” told a story on Facebook of returning to her native Uzbekistan from Germany only to be detained and tortured. Distraught from her torture, Gulsumoy committed suicide. All of these actions occurred on Facebook. And in fact, that’s the only place where these events occurred – as Gulsumoy and her story were all a hoax. However, this hoax didn’t stop people from following her on Facebook nor did it stop many Western outlets from covering this story that wasn’t.
Overall, an interesting take on social media and worth a read if you are interested in contrasting the strengths and weaknesses of the Internet as a tool for resistance. Ultimately, false stories like this undermine the utility of social media as a mechanism for social movements to generate support and gain commitment to action. Instead, false stories create doubt amongst followers weakening the platform’s effectiveness.
Similar questions were raised in 2009 when many Iranians began using Twitter to mobilize resistance. The only problem was many of these Iranian tweets for resistance were in English. So were they tweeting from Iran or just simply tweets for Iran? Who were they trying to communicate with? Other Iranians or the West? Who knows?! Either way, social media has opened up an entirely new era of information warfare…and conspiracy.
Yet while the internet allowed dissidents to overcome the communication barriers inherent in geographic dispersion and political repression, it did little to alleviate long-standing internal feuds. The internet is a useful tool, but it raises questions of anonymity, authorship, and audience that are far more problematic for activists operating in a cynical political culture — a hallmark of Uzbekistan’s dictatorship– than for activists in more open societies.