Social media tools have become an inseparable part of contemporary life, especially among young people. In a report prepared early this year, the number of internet users was estimated at 57% of the world's population. The number of users of social media websites between January 2018 and January 2019 has increased by 280 million to reach 3.48 billion worldwide. It is expected to grow more in the future, and this can’t be taken for granted. Numbers reflects how much space social media occupies in the lives of individuals; whereas the average time spent on the internet is about six and a half hours a day.
In Sudan, the number of social media users reached 3.5 million, with an increase of 700,000 from the past year alone. Social media websites have recently become one of the most important means of news and information sharing - here in Sudan - due to the lack of trust in the traditional media. Traditional media outlets are subject to various restrictions, such as the confiscation of newspapers, intimidation and arbitrary detention of journalists - according to Amnesty International reports, and strict censorship that tightens the media (such as newspapers, television, etc.). All of these challenges have distorted the image of truth presented by traditional media.
Meanwhile, social media sites have been transparent enough to become the primary source of information for many. In a poll, participants reported that their confidence in the sites depended on the information source. Most of them relied on news from activists and journalists and the official Sudanese Professional Association page to avoid rumors and fabricated news. Not only individuals turned to social media for news, but also news channels resorted to the content published on social media sites (images and videos) when reporting on the events in Sudan, especially after the closing of media offices and the withdrawal of licenses of correspondents.
Art by @yakam_dudes via picdeer.com
Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter in particular, provided the opportunity to create a space through which everyone can express their opinion on public affairs, such as on official speeches and decisions. There was growing anger on social media in response to deteriorating economic conditions and low wages, as well as administrative and financial corruption. The speech of anger and indignation quickly turned into protests in December 2018. Social media played a major role in building awareness of citizens' problems, mobilizing the masses and using their anger in organizing action and collective commitment. We cannot deny the role it played in fueling the movement by publishing images and videos that document protests, and availing them for all, in the midst of the obscurity of official media outlets.
It is worth noting here that many initiatives have emerged through Facebook and Twitter, including the Sudanese Professionals Association - the body that introduced itself as a leader and guide of the evolution – and introduced the Declaration of Freedom and Change through a live video on their official Facebook page. The announcement was then circulated among the masses and screens of news stations. There was also an initiative that rejects passing the emergency law, another initiative by the neighborhood resistance committees, and each of which had a significant impact on the development of on-ground mobilization. Their roles did not stop at this point, but extended to provide a platform for the entities that arose to represent the revolutionaries, and to protect the gains of the revolution, including: the National Movement for Freedoms and Justice - Protection.
The Sudanese uprising was not the first to use electronic digital media. It was preceded by the revolutions of the Arab Spring against the repressive systems and other revolutions around the world. Information technology has provided a free space from the grip of censorship, provoking protests, structuring and connecting digital activists to transform the rhetoric into real action on the ground. The role played by social media outlets qualify them as one of the tools of change and constructive criticism in the future for a more open and evolving political environment.