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What a social media blackout means for marginalized communities

Behind the Scenes of "Visibility as Resistance: How Zimbabwe’s LGBQTI+ Community Fights Queerphobia on Social Media"

All of you must have been affected in one way or another when Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp went down last week, with Facebook messenger and Instagram’s services being disrupted twice in a matter of days.

It triggered discussions on how much social media has been so much intertwined with the operations, reach and behavior of news organizations and restarted conversations that maybe it’s about time that journalism extricate itself from the digital architecture and scope of social media.

For other sectors though, cutting social media off is not much of an option, especially when it was the traditional news media or the mainstream news organizations which silenced them in the first place.

This is the case for the members of the LGTBQI+ (lesbians, gays, transgender, bisexuals, queer, intersexual) community in Zimbabwe, whose efforts to tell their stories – after either being vilified or erased from the narrative of their society – were largely made possible through social media.

In our latest story, written by Joyline Maenzanise, we talk about how the LGBTQI organizations in Zimbabwe resorted to using social media and the other tools in the online sphere to show their humanity, share their experiences and to correct misconceptions about them.

When Zimbabwe was still under his rule, President Robert Mugabe assailed the LGBTQI+ as “lower than dogs and pigs,” with such denigration and discrimination echoed by state media.

After Mugabe was removed from power in 2017, the LGBTQI+ people in Zimbabwe tried to change how the larger public viewed them by coming out with their stories of pain, hope, strength and aspirations through podcasts, videos on Youtube, Facebook and Twitter.

If traditional media will exit the realm of social media and if social media will be shut down then, news organizations should find more ways to be more inclusive in their reporting, have the humility and courage for self-reflection and work on creating more spaces for LGBTQI+ voices.

Even then, this is a bigger challenge for media operating in countries where press freedom is also under attack. It’s a complex endeavor that will require careful consideration of context.

 

Unbias the News then throws its support behind efforts by communities – who have been oppressed and attacked – to take back their narrative and by the media to recognize the role they played in it and the steps they have taken to change this role in the face of structural restrictions.

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