Protests Around the World and Why My Retweets Don’t Matter

I had a roughly four-year hiatus from Twitter and I recently returned to my account, only to rediscover what I had always known: my retweets don’t matter.

Social media itself is a construct. We can’t touch Twitter. Twitter can’t love you back. No amount of likes can replace human connection. Phone bad book good, you get it.

But when real, actual protests like the ones happening in the Sudan and Hong Kong are happening, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, etc. all seem even more extraneous than they already were. What is a retweet going to do to help the people of Sudan or Hong Kong or Flint, Michigan? Absolutely nothing.

Now, that would be a little less true if an actually halfway decent president took Twitter as seriously as our glorified pumpkin man does, but this is not Designated Survivor, where the people in power are good at their jobs and listen to their constituents. (Also, while we’re here, please Netflix, I am begging you to renew Designated Survivor, I need my escapist TV.)

No, we’re living in an age and a place where Twitter polls and follower counts might result in a temporary groundswell of support for a cause, but is always short-lived and rarely results in meaningful change (the exception, perhaps, being the #MeToo movement).

So when I read about how hundreds of people have died in Sudan, and how the military have engaged in systematic raping, and the killing of political prisoners, call me crazy but I just can’t seem to take a retweet as a reasonable response.

For those who don’t know, Sudanese civilians, mostly students, have been protesting since December 2018 for the installation of a democratic government. They’ve successfully managed to take down their wanted-for-crimes-against-humanity “president” Omar al-Bashir in April, ending 30 years of a violent, oppressive dictatorship that carried out the Darfur genocide, killing a low estimated 100,000. But after he was deposed, a transitional military council took his place, and have been cracking down on protesters calling for democratic elections ever since. A social media blackout is in effect, and we’re witnessing what could become––if it hasn’t already–– a Sudanese Tiananmen Square.

Do I have a better solution than to tweet about it? Of course not. A blog that barely reaches five people isn’t any better. But am I going to complain about mankind’s general apathy anyway? Absolutely.

Police in Hong Kong are using iPhones’ facial recognition software to target protesters. The police have even started removing their badges and name tags from their uniforms, to retain anonymity, effectively becoming secret police. These protests have been going on for eight weeks now, with no sign of stopping. Students want to stop the passage of Hong Kong’s extradition bill, which requires those who have committed certain (that is, 37 types of) crimes in Hong Kong to be held and tried on Chinese soil. Which renders Hong Kong’s judicial system virtually irrelevant for all but the least serious crimes.

For my American readers, you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with you, I’d check up on what ICE has been doing with facial recognition software (spoiler alert: ethnic cleansing). I would ask yourselves why our president hasn’t condemned the violent dictator al-Bashir, why he hasn’t come out against the anti-democratic extradition bill, and why instead he spends his time excoriating Congresswomen on Twitter.

What we’re witnessing in Sudan and Hong Kong isn’t foreign. It’s all too familiar, and if we’re going to tweet, we need to at least draw attention to what’s going on, so the world and all its leaders, for better or worse, know we’re watching them just as much as they’re watching us.

I know, that sounds like a lot. But as long as we stay focused on what matters around the world, we can at least hold the people in power accountable for their actions.

Tune in in a couple of days to hear my thoughts on a lighter subject: weird, funny, stupid, and heartwarming things customers do in the bookstore where I work. Hopefully this whole alternating thing with important subjects and less-important subjects won’t give you too much whiplash.

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