Impact of Social Media on Human Rights
On 13th December, the Media Communications Department and the WHA, Webster’s Humanitarian Association, hosted a special Spotlight Seminar to celebrate Webster Geneva’s 40th Anniversary and to honour International Human Rights Day. The speakers gathered to shed light on the impact of social media on human rights.
Bradley Wiggins drew on his recent research on memes and social media activism. He argued that whilst social media cannot change the world, it is part of a larger toolkit. However, these tools can be used by all voices for all purposes; whilst in some cases, these tools are used to promote human rights, such as in the #MeToo or #BlackLivesMatter movements, they are also used by extremist groups promoting messages that put human rights at risk.
Social media is also being used to proactively build empathy in support of the human rights of the most vulnerable populations. Gisella Lomax, Head of Social Media, UNHCR – the UN Refugee Agency, described her approach to social media campaigning drawing on individual stories of refugees to build compassion and inspire engagement, rather than passive “clicktivism”.
Brazilian photographer, Paula Dias Leite, explored the threat posed to human rights by the recent election of Brazil’s first YouTube president. Emerging in the context of political and economic struggles in Brazil, social media platforms facilitated the spread of hate speech, bypassing traditional media gatekeepers and established political parties.
President of Webster’s Humanitarian Association, Martina Castiglioni, stressed the importance of stories that touch us and inspire compassion and empathy. She cited the work of Venezuelan artist and human rights activist, Rodrigo Hombre Radikal Figueredo, who used social media and art to amplify these messages and to promote human rights.
The interactive exhibition, Augmented Democracy, inspired by the Brazilian elections is available for viewing in the Student Lounge at Webster University Geneva until the end of January 2019.
Bradley Wiggin’s book The Discursive Power of Memes and Digital Culture will be published by Routledge in the 2019.