This Tuesday, our “Continuing Revolution” lecture series welcomed cartoonist, humanitarian activist and 2016 Oak Fellow, Khalid Albaih. Having been to his lecture a few weeks earlier, this session took on a more casual form, which enabled us to understand his standings and motives more thoroughly.
Mr. Albaih came from an interesting background: born to a politically prestigious family in Sudan, he grew up going to both catholic and Muslim schools, absorbing culture from both sides. Speaking multiple languages and having a deep appreciation for arts, Mr. Albaih took cartoon as his weapon and social media as his battleground and started introducing the western world to authentic news from the Arabic World. As a member of the new generation growing up on the Internet, I resonated deeply with his approach to social media and his view on government censorship.
Mr. Albaih insists that social media is a tool to battle censorship; and when used correctly, it could exhibit a devastating force that brings revolutionary changes. One example is Arab Spring. Governments in the Arabic World, similar to many other developing countries, tend to adopt brutal dictatorships, in one form or another, and under such leadership the only voice in the media is propaganda. Articles are easy to censor; comics are much subtler. Therefore, many artists with opinions picked up their pens and started publishing their drawings. During Arab Spring, however, multiple governments, including Sudan and Ethiopia, shut down their national access to the Internet or completely blocked the use of social media, for though they could censor and control their state media, people were expressing their anger and organizing their movements on social media in a form that the government could not control, and it was transparent to the world. Therefore, the government pulled the plug, and suddenly the voice of the people went quiet. Mr. Albaih, however, continued his work by communicating with the rest the world through comics. His work not only drew attention from the western world to Arab Spring, but inspired people in the Arab World to continue their fight. Along with social media, graffiti copies of his arts were prosperous on the streets, bypassing the government censorship and empowering the people.
Lengthy articles on the state media could be a flat out lie; however, thousands of tweets could shout out the precious truth. Mr. Albaih stressed the importance of “citizen journalism”: the most authentic form of news and sometimes the only access to truth. Social media, or more broadly, the Internet, has changed the power structure and shifting weight to the mass. One ruling entity no longer dominates the voices in our society; people could directly communicate with each other despite economic and geological difference, and make educated decisions for themselves. From tweeting lies told by the presidential candidates to fact checking corporate claims, from uploading videos of police brutality to browsing through Mr. Albaih’s Facebook page, people could no longer be forced with tales that people in power want you to hear. I believe that with instant communication technologies, true democracy has never been closer to us.