Yesterday, for a few hours at least, the plight of a small indigenous people was given center stage on Twitter. The Rohingya people—inhabitants of Burma, known officially as the Republic of the Union of Myanmar—were recognized by several thousand Tweeples during a “twitterstorm” orchestrated by online activists. The idea behind such events is to cause an immediately recognizable trend across the internet that will hopefully raise awareness about a specific issue. As it is unlikely many people in the West are well-versed on the desperate circumstances of the Rohingya people, this event could be considered a massive success.
The Rohingya people are Muslim and are the minority in the state of Rakhine, the majority being Rakhine Buddhists. The Burmese government refuses to recognize the population of Rohingya people, which is estimated to be around 800,000. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have been forced into refugee camps in which the conditions can be described as terrifying and inhumane. Thousands have been slaughtered. Since the Burmese government recognizes these people as illegal immigrants and not as citizens, they have been afforded no protection and subjected to what many have called genocide. When the Rohingya attempt to flee, they are often turned away or killed by neighboring countries. Without a doubt, they are a persecuted population in a situation which deserves a higher degree of attention from the international community and certainly from the press.
This internet mob organized yesterday was spearheaded by the hacktivist group Anonymous who began the day by shutting down 14 Myanmar government websites through Denial of Service attacks. Several other websites were defaced by typically nefarious-sounding hacker organizations such as Root Infectious and Indonisian Fighter Cyber Support. In what is becoming the norm for hacktivist organizations, this twitterstorm was a carefully engineered action that allowed thousands of Anonymous supporters without the technical skills required to hack a website to participate. A pastebin.com document was released several hours before the storm detailing instructions on how to cause the internet trend and also provided a long list of precrafted tweets for users to copy and paste.
According to hashtag.org (based on a 1 percent sample?) the intended hashtag #RohingyaNOW reached an enormous volume—up to 24,000 tweets per hour.
What’s happening in Burma is an abomination, and the world has turned a blind eye. It’s been one of the worst places on Earth for several decades, and it’s in a depressing league of other terrifying places, things like the killing fields of Cambodia, Soviet POW’s in Mauthausen, or the ethic cleansing in Rwanda. My only hope is that people didn’t log off of Twitter after a two-hour trend with a sense of achievement that allowed them to sleep better last night. What Anonymous managed to accomplish was important. Rousing a large mob of individuals who are ready and willing to commit themselves to a cause is phase one of any grassroots movement. I hope that someone in charge of this rabble-rousing effort doesn’t ignore the momentum and proceeds to accomplish something that can actually be quantified by lives saved. That way, this sudden surge of online attention can be transformed into action that would actually be felt by the Rohingya people.
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