Social Media and Human Rights: A Timeline
Equality / 10 Aug 2021

Social Media and Human Rights: A Timeline

By Dhruva Balram, Editor

Spaces of human rights can be anywhere. We’re using this series to consider a range of places – physical and conceptual – we might look at, from parliamentary buildings, LGBTQIA+ bookstores or online platforms to streets where famous protests have taken place. Our aim with this series is to uncover the real world places that have had an impact on, or been impacted by, human rights. This week, we focus on social media. 

Social media is a double-edged sword. It has allowed millions to form communities, find spaces to interact joyfully and inspire revolutions, toppled dictators and furthered the conversation surrounding human rights in many countries. On the other hand, social media can also be a toxic space where people’s human rights are violated every day. The timeline of social media and human rights which we have created takes us from the invention of the internet to recent protests birthed from online movements. 

1 January 1989
The Internet Is Invented

The invention of the World Wide Web (internet) by Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist while working at CERN [European Organization for Nuclear Research]. The Web was originally conceived and developed to meet the demand for automated information-sharing between scientists in universities and institutes around the world."

Photo by Paul Clarke on https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sir_Tim_Berners-Lee.jpg

The invention of the World Wide Web (internet) by Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist while working at CERN [European Organization for Nuclear Research]. The Web was originally conceived and developed to meet the demand for automated information-sharing between scientists in universities and institutes around the world."

30 November 1999

WTO Protests

After being selected to host the World Trade Organisation [WTO] Ministerial Conference in 1999, Seattle, Washington simultaneously held one of the largest political protests ever seen in the city. The protests surrounded issues on workers' rights, sustainable economies and environmental and social issues. Over 50,000 protestors - who planned out strategic routes to stop traffic and bring attention to their cause - relied on their mobile phones and instantaneous text messages which helped with quick shifts of strategy. The organisers also created the Independent Media Center, now a worldwide grassroots news source.

Photo on Seattle Municipal Archives Digital Collections http://archives.seattle.gov/digital-collections/index.php/Detail/objects/161445

After being selected to host the World Trade Organisation [WTO] Ministerial Conference in 1999, Seattle, Washington simultaneously held one of the largest political protests ever seen in the city. The protests surrounded issues on workers' rights, sustainable economies and environmental and social issues. Over 50,000 protestors - who planned out strategic routes to stop traffic and bring attention to their cause - relied on their mobile phones and instantaneous text messages which helped with quick shifts of strategy. The organisers also created the Independent Media Center, now a worldwide grassroots news source.

February 2004

Facebook Is Founded

Facebook founded in Massachusetts, United States. While studying psychology at Harvard University, Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook, now a global behemoth social media platform with over a billion users.

Photo by Anthony Quintano on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/quintanomedia/41793468182

Facebook founded in Massachusetts, United States. While studying psychology at Harvard University, Mark Zuckerberg founded Facebook, now a global behemoth social media platform with over a billion users.

21 March 2006

Twitter Is Founded

Twitter is founded in San Francisco, United States by Evan Williams, Biz Stone, Noah Glass and Jack Dorsey. Sitting on a slide, eating Mexican food, Jack Dorsey and his colleagues came up with the idea to instantly type messages for a group of people to see. A combination of "status-type ideas", Twitter launched on March 21st, 2006.

Credit: EachOther

Twitter is founded in San Francisco, United States by Evan Williams, Biz Stone, Noah Glass and Jack Dorsey. Sitting on a slide, eating Mexican food, Jack Dorsey and his colleagues came up with the idea to instantly type messages for a group of people to see. A combination of "status-type ideas", Twitter launched on March 21st, 2006.

27 March 2006

Great American Boycott

More than a million demonstrators took to the streets across the United States after Los Angeles high school students used text messaging to organise a classroom walk-out against changes to U.S. immigration law. After the initial march, the Californian students reached out to other teenagers across the country using MySpace, creating sister movements nationwide as protestors surged through Chicago, Denver, Houston, San Diego and many more major cities.

Photo by Thomas Hawk on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/thomashawk/138591344

More than a million demonstrators took to the streets across the United States after Los Angeles high school students used text messaging to organise a classroom walk-out against changes to U.S. immigration law. After the initial march, the Californian students reached out to other teenagers across the country using MySpace, creating sister movements nationwide as protestors surged through Chicago, Denver, Houston, San Diego and many more major cities.

February 2008

No More FARC

33-year-old Columbian engineer Oscar Morales set up a Facebook group denouncing Las FARC, a revolutionary armed force of Columbia commonly considered a guerrilla faction. The group gained 250,000 users quickly and the movement was picked up by the Columbian media, leading to Morales organising a march to protest against FARC and to demand the liberation of hostages. The protesters numbered in the hundreds of thousands in the capital Bogota alone.

Photo by Robert Thivierge on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/thivierr/2245935106

33-year-old Columbian engineer Oscar Morales set up a Facebook group denouncing Las FARC, a revolutionary armed force of Columbia commonly considered a guerrilla faction. The group gained 250,000 users quickly and the movement was picked up by the Columbian media, leading to Morales organising a march to protest against FARC and to demand the liberation of hostages. The protesters numbered in the hundreds of thousands in the capital Bogota alone.

June 2009

Iranian Street Protests

When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinajan was re-elected, students gathered in the streets of Tehran to protest. Communicating and amassing forces via social networks, the protest gathered such high numbers that the Iranian government was forced to shut down internet access. Protestors used social media to trade lists of proxy servers to get around restrictions, which authorities monitored and blocked. The turning point of the protest occurred online, when the killing of Iranian woman Neda Soltani was recorded on video and published on the internet, which bolstered the rallying cries of Iranians.

Photo on Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Iran_election_(2).jpg

When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinajan was re-elected, students gathered in the streets of Tehran to protest. Communicating and amassing forces via social networks, the protest gathered such high numbers that the Iranian government was forced to shut down internet access. Protestors used social media to trade lists of proxy servers to get around restrictions, which authorities monitored and blocked. The turning point of the protest occurred online, when the killing of Iranian woman Neda Soltani was recorded on video and published on the internet, which bolstered the rallying cries of Iranians.

6 October 2010
Instagram Is Launched

Instagram was officially launched on the iOS app store.

Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/vj3nOtiX85Y

Instagram was officially launched on the iOS app store.

May 2010

Protests in Greece and Spain

In Greece's largest protests since 1973, people organised in response to the debt crisis which had engulfed the country. Inspired by the Greek protests, the Indignant Citizens Movement was created in Spain, calling via Facebook for demonstrations across the country.

Photo on Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:20150703_Greek_Referendum_Demonstration_for_NO_syntagma_square_Athens_Greece.jpg

In Greece's largest protests since 1973, people organised in response to the debt crisis which had engulfed the country. Inspired by the Greek protests, the Indignant Citizens Movement was created in Spain, calling via Facebook for demonstrations across the country.

18 December 2010

The Arab Spring

The Arab Spring was a seismic event which shook the Middle East. Referring to a series of revolutions and uprisings throughout North Africa and the Middle East, it started in Tunisia on December 18, catalysed through Facebook groups. Social media - via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and more - was essential in both mobilising protestors and informing the world about the ongoing events.

Photo on Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Protest_Aden_Arab_Spring_2011.jpg

The Arab Spring was a seismic event which shook the Middle East. Referring to a series of revolutions and uprisings throughout North Africa and the Middle East, it started in Tunisia on December 18, catalysed through Facebook groups. Social media - via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and more - was essential in both mobilising protestors and informing the world about the ongoing events.

June 2011

The Right To Drive In Saudi Arabia

After Manal-al-Sharif, a social media activist, was arrested having posted a video of herself driving on YouTube, Saudi Arabian women organised to drive on June 17, 2011 - a month on from the date of her arrest. Though the government repeatedly shut down the movements occurring on social media, they kept springing up and garnered a large following.

Credit: EachOther

After Manal-al-Sharif, a social media activist, was arrested having posted a video of herself driving on YouTube, Saudi Arabian women organised to drive on June 17, 2011 - a month on from the date of her arrest. Though the government repeatedly shut down the movements occurring on social media, they kept springing up and garnered a large following.

4 August 2011

London Riots

When Mark Duggan was fatally shot by police on 4 August 2011, riots erupted across London before spreading to various cities across the country. Co-ordinated mainly via Blackberry messenger and Twitter, the riots ended with five people dead, and more than £200m of damage to businesses and property. It was the largest set of riots to take place in the United Kingdom for more than a generation.

Credit: EachOther

When Mark Duggan was fatally shot by police on 4 August 2011, riots erupted across London before spreading to various cities across the country. Co-ordinated mainly via Blackberry messenger and Twitter, the riots ended with five people dead, and more than £200m of damage to businesses and property. It was the largest set of riots to take place in the United Kingdom for more than a generation.

17 September 2011

Occupy Movement

The first Occupy movement - targeting Wall Street - took place in New York City as thousands gathered to vent their frustrations against the wealthiest 1%. Spread through social media, the Occupy protests took place in 951 cities across 82 countries and in over 600 communities in the United States alone.

Photo on Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Day_14_Occupy_Wall_Street_September_30_2011_Shankbone.JPG

The first Occupy movement - targeting Wall Street - took place in New York City as thousands gathered to vent their frustrations against the wealthiest 1%. Spread through social media, the Occupy protests took place in 951 cities across 82 countries and in over 600 communities in the United States alone.

2012

Twitter Reaches 100 Million Users

Twitter reaches more than 100 million users. 340 million tweets are posted per day.

Twitter reaches more than 100 million users. 340 million tweets are posted per day.

5 March 2012

Kony 2012

A Kony 2012 video is released with the intention of making Ugandan militia leader Joseph Kony globally known, so as to have him arrested. Though the creators of the film were dismissed as "slacktivists", the film has been viewed 18.6 million times and went viral, gaining the support of political leaders and other celebrities.

Photo by William Murphy on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/infomatique/7103869103

A Kony 2012 video is released with the intention of making Ugandan militia leader Joseph Kony globally known, so as to have him arrested. Though the creators of the film were dismissed as "slacktivists", the film has been viewed 18.6 million times and went viral, gaining the support of political leaders and other celebrities.

2013

Black Lives Matter US

A global movement, a hashtag and a network of grass-roots organisations and activists all stem from a simple Facebook post in the USA titled 'Black Lives Matter'. Written after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who reportedly shot and killed Trayvon Martin in Florida, the post encapsulated the frustrations many African-Americans felt at their treatment by the authorities, and especially by the police.

Photo by Fibonacci Blue on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/fibonacciblue/9302029618/in/album-72157634671431618/

A global movement, a hashtag and a network of grass-roots organisations and activists all stem from a simple Facebook post in the USA titled 'Black Lives Matter'. Written after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who reportedly shot and killed Trayvon Martin in Florida, the post encapsulated the frustrations many African-Americans felt at their treatment by the authorities, and especially by the police.

April 2014

#BringBackOurGirls

The #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign was launched after 276 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram. The campaign reached Michelle Obama whose influence allowed it to gain significant traction. It has since been turned into a documentary, 'Stolen Daughters: Kidnapped by Boko Haram'.

Photo by Michael Fleshman on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/fleshmanpix/14115898005

The #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign was launched after 276 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram. The campaign reached Michelle Obama whose influence allowed it to gain significant traction. It has since been turned into a documentary, 'Stolen Daughters: Kidnapped by Boko Haram'.

July 2014

Ice Bucket Challenge

The ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) Ice Bucket Challenge went viral on social media with celebs and high profile figures raising awareness and donating to support those with motor neuron disease.

Photo by Major Tom Agency on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText

The ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) Ice Bucket Challenge went viral on social media with celebs and high profile figures raising awareness and donating to support those with motor neuron disease.

11 July 2016

Black Lives Matter UK

#BlackLivesMatter emerged as a movement in the UK in the summer of 2016, as thousands attended protests against police racism across the country

Photo by Alisdare Hickson on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/alisdare/27910418260/in/album-72157670198427352/

#BlackLivesMatter emerged as a movement in the UK in the summer of 2016, as thousands attended protests against police racism across the country

1 September 2016

Taking The Knee

During the national anthem before an American Football match, Colin Kaepernick took the knee in support of #BlackLivesMatter. It sparked controversy and has now grown into a global movement, with football players at Euro 2020 taking the knee as a stand against racism.

Photo by Seatacular on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/footballschedule/8400616161

During the national anthem before an American Football match, Colin Kaepernick took the knee in support of #BlackLivesMatter. It sparked controversy and has now grown into a global movement, with football players at Euro 2020 taking the knee as a stand against racism.

1 September 2016

TikTok Is Launched

TikTok was launched under its original name A.me. Within a year, it had more than 100 million users, with more than one billion videos viewed every day.

Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/XfnfMlNpWDo

TikTok was launched under its original name A.me. Within a year, it had more than 100 million users, with more than one billion videos viewed every day.

15 October 2017

#MeToo

Tarana Burke began using the phrase "Me Too" in 2006 on the Myspace social network to promote "empowerment through empathy" among women of colour who had been sexually abused. American actress Alyssa Milano then posted the expression on Twitter in 2017, writing: "If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote 'Me Too' as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” The #MeToo movement took on a new life with a shockingly widespread response."

Credit: EachOther

Tarana Burke began using the phrase "Me Too" in 2006 on the Myspace social network to promote "empowerment through empathy" among women of colour who had been sexually abused. American actress Alyssa Milano then posted the expression on Twitter in 2017, writing: "If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote 'Me Too' as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” The #MeToo movement took on a new life with a shockingly widespread response."

October 2017

#MeToo UK

Allegations concerning the involvement of British politicians in cases of sexual harassment and assault arose as the #MeToo movement continued to spread.

Photo by Lucia Dong on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/48UaeIMNAA4

Allegations concerning the involvement of British politicians in cases of sexual harassment and assault arose as the #MeToo movement continued to spread.

14 February 2018

March For Our Lives

Four days after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, Cameron Kasky and his classmates announced #MarchForOurLives – a gun-control campaign which sparked sibling events in the United Kingdom and throughout the world.

Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/7VJB8VZkvMk

Four days after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, Cameron Kasky and his classmates announced #MarchForOurLives – a gun-control campaign which sparked sibling events in the United Kingdom and throughout the world.

15 March 2019

Christchurch Massacre

A far right terrorist killed 51 Muslim worshippers during Friday prayers in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The gunman used a body-worn camera to broadcast the atrocity on a live Facebook feed. At the time, fellow extremists around the world shared the footage and cheered him on. Governments since have criticised social media companies for allowing extremist and violent content to remain on their sites.

Photo by Lorie Shaull on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/number7cloud/33477172885/in/album-72157679106187642/

A far right terrorist killed 51 Muslim worshippers during Friday prayers in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The gunman used a body-worn camera to broadcast the atrocity on a live Facebook feed. At the time, fellow extremists around the world shared the footage and cheered him on. Governments since have criticised social media companies for allowing extremist and violent content to remain on their sites.

2019

Hong Kong Protests

Social media posts about pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong are censored by the Chinese government

Photo by Manson Yim on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/qeYJ1RSRV-U

Social media posts about pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong are censored by the Chinese government

1 April 2020

Milk Tea Alliance

The Milk Tea Alliance was created after Twitter users in Taiwan and Hong Kong joined Thai users as they defended themselves against mass criticism from Chinese social media users. An online show of democratic solidarity, it started as a meme and has grown into an international movement with its own Twitter emoji.

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/B43a-FPxYqU

The Milk Tea Alliance was created after Twitter users in Taiwan and Hong Kong joined Thai users as they defended themselves against mass criticism from Chinese social media users. An online show of democratic solidarity, it started as a meme and has grown into an international movement with its own Twitter emoji.

June 2020

Free School Meals

Footballer Marcus Rashford takes his free school meals campaign to Twitter after a letter he had sent to the prime minister on the subject went ignored.

Credit: EachOther

Footballer Marcus Rashford takes his free school meals campaign to Twitter after a letter he had sent to the prime minister on the subject went ignored.

June 2020

Black Lives Matter

After the video showing George Floyd’s murder by US police was circulated on social media, a mass movement on Twitter and Instagram enabled the Black Lives Matter protests to gather forces for marches across the world.

Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/jRFkmze3pXg

After the video showing George Floyd’s murder by US police was circulated on social media, a mass movement on Twitter and Instagram enabled the Black Lives Matter protests to gather forces for marches across the world.

March 2021

Murder of Sarah Everard

After the killing by a serving police officer of Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old woman who was kidnapped, raped and murdered in London, millions of women took to Twitter to share their experiences of sexual harassment and male violence. Grassroots movements such as Sisters Uncut and Reclaim These Streets organised vigils through social media. Clashes with the police over covid lockdown restrictions during some vigils were shared across social media, opening a wider discussion regarding police brutality and misogyny.

Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/ecGwssr0Cyg

After the killing by a serving police officer of Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old woman who was kidnapped, raped and murdered in London, millions of women took to Twitter to share their experiences of sexual harassment and male violence. Grassroots movements such as Sisters Uncut and Reclaim These Streets organised vigils through social media. Clashes with the police over covid lockdown restrictions during some vigils were shared across social media, opening a wider discussion regarding police brutality and misogyny.

13 May 2021

Pro-Immigrant Demonstration In Glasgow

 

A group of over 200 protestors were able to stop the detention of two migrants after surrounding an Immigration Enforcement van in Glasgow. One protestor spent over eight hours under the van in order to stop it being able to move. The protest began on social media, after several posts warned that an Immigration Enforcement van had detained Sumit Sehdev and Lakhvir Singh

Credit: EachOther

A group of over 200 protestors were able to stop the detention of two migrants after surrounding an Immigration Enforcement van in Glasgow. One protestor spent over eight hours under the van in order to stop it being able to move. The protest began on social media, after several posts warned that an Immigration Enforcement van had detained Sumit Sehdev and Lakhvir Singh

Editor’s note: As originally published, this article did not mention Noah Glass as a co-founder of Twitter, it has since been amended to include him.

Spaces of Human Rights