The role of digital technologies in Belarus’ protests

How are protests fighting police brutality in Belarus? Well, technology has had an important role to play, and we want to tell you about it.

10,000 are still on the streets of Minsk, Belarus, asking for the resignation of President Lukashenko nearly a month after fraudulent elections. How are protests fighting police brutality in the country? Well, technology has had an important role to play, and we want to tell you about it. By Marta Portocarrero

It’s not breaking news that over the last decade technology has been a powerful ally to protesters. Just think of the Arab Spring, the ultimate example of a revolution that started on social media.

It is also not surprising that when protests erupt, (autocratic) governments rush to shut down internet connections. 

This has happened in Belarus. However technology has been playing an important role in moving protests to an opportunity of political change.

The singularities of protests in Belarus

Contrarily to other well-known protests, such as Egypt in 2012, in Belarus protests weren’t constrained to a single location. Instead, they happened in different places in the capital Minsk, as well as in other cities, making it harder for police to control the crowds.

Another key characteristic of Belarus’ protest were the extreme police violence used by the government, prompting even more protesters onto the streets.

Tens of thousands of people protested against fraudulent elections in Belarus.

What technology has been used?

Most protesters used Telegram, a mass-messenger chat service similar to Whatsapp. There they shared useful information, such as safe hiding places, the location of riot police and places to find water and medicine.

And when the government started shutting down internet connections, Telegram itself stood by the protesters and worked on ways to make it possible for protesters to access the app, despite bad connection.

The high IT literacy of Belarusians also helped. Citizens were generally able to by-pass Internet security and publish protest content.

How did the use of technology help protesters?

The use of technology was not so key in mobilising or coordinating protests, but instead to show everyone how important it was to go onto the streets.

On social media, videos erupted of police brutality against protesters, as well as violence committed against those in jail. They were taken by other protesters, bypassers or people from their windows.

This prompted people onto the streets to fight not only for the resignation of the president, but also against police brutality. It also sent the message that by using social media, citizens were surveilling the government as much as they were being surveilled by the state.

Social media was also important to make protesters believe that their actions were crucial to changing the future of the country. The publication of drone videos showing thousands of people protesting together has urged many more off their sofas and onto the streets.

Belarus’ government was heavily criticised for the use of extreme violence on protesters.

The downside of technology

Technology, however, comes with some downsides.

While it definitely helped getting people en masse to the streets, this mobilisation happened organically and wasn’t associated with any organization, so it also lost momentum very quickly and failed to achieve any goal.

The use of social media also led to misinformation and the so-called “clickactivism”, in which people post information without checking its accuracy and spreading panic.

But hopefully the use of technology and social media applied to activism will create a pathway to political change across the world, as well as condemning extreme violence and police brutality.

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