Social Media Involvement

The sharing of photographs on various social media platforms has been a defining aspect of dialogue surrounding the various refugee crises of the 2010s, and the Rohingya crisis is no exception.  In 2015, activist group United to End Genocide launched a social media campaign in support of the Rohingya based around the hashtag #JustSayTheirName and intended to protest Myanmar’s refusal to recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic group.  Even President Obama lent his name to the Rohingya cause as manifested on social media: in November 2015, during a visit to Myanmar, the president repeatedly used the word “Rohingya,” and United to End Genocide confirmed with “senior white house officials” that the President had been influenced by the #JustSayTheirName campaign. However, there is also another side to the social media activism inspired by the Rohingya crisis; 2015 also saw a phenomenon in which pictures found on social media and attributed to the Rohingya crisis were discovered to be completely unrelated to the crisis or to the Rohingya people at all.  The BBC’s blog BBC Trending published a comprehensive roundup of these misattributed photos.  Their findings include: an image of “Buddhist monks standing among piles of body parts” said to be those of Rohingya people that was actually taken after a Chinese earthquake in 2010, a photograph of a badly injured man identified as a Rohingya victim of abuse who is actually a Tibetan activist who set himself on fire as part of a Chinese political protest in 2012, and an image of a man riding a motorcycle over the outstretched arms of supposedly Rohingya children—the man is actually a martial arts trainer in India, and the children are students participating in his stunt show.  Posted by people who intend to show their support for the Rohingyas on social media by expressing indignance at violence, these misattributed images show the flip side of social media’s impressive yet unwieldy reach as illustrated by Obama’s endorsement of the #JustSayTheirName campaign.

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