Blog Posts

Jack, Twitter and the word “Rohingya”

When Jack Dorsey tweeted about his birthday retreat, recommending we take a meditation holiday in Myanmar, it is hard to imagine what a slap in the face that must have felt like to the Rohingya. As a human rights activist campaigning for the Rohingya over Twitter for much of the past 6 years, I was sorely disappointed. I found it hard to understand how Twitter’s founder and CEO could have missed what an essential tool Twitter has been in the fight to stop the genocide of our time. Had he really missed all of our tweets as we struggled to end the burning of villages, and the raping of thousands of women and girls, and tweeted to stop the horror of babies being thrown on to fires or hacked to death?

Had Jack not noticed when #Rohingya tags trended across the world? Even at the last minute, on the plane to his destination, surely he had looked up the #Myanmar tag for tips? Why then did he not realise he was heading straight into the country of a full-blown genocide, where bodies still lay decomposing in unmarked mass graves? Why did he not realise his mistake and turn the plane around?

Of course, Jack was living in a different world. I used to be oblivious to genocide once, several years ago before Twitter blew my own cosy life apart. I realised that human rights are not yet Jack’s concern, but I needed him to understand: For him to go about his holiday like nothing had happened in Myanmar, whilst thousands of Rohingya are still trapped in internment camps and others are hanging on to their existence by a thread, with their citizenship removed, education and access to healthcare denied, was unacceptable. We took to Twitter with the #JackIgnoresGenocide tag, to campaign for Jack’s awareness. We called on him to show some human concern.

The Rohingya have had all their rights removed, and even their name denied. In Myanmar the most you might hear an official call them is the ‘so called Rohingya’, but usually ‘Bengalis’ or some derogatory slur. International politicians and aid groups including UN aid agencies frequently avoid using the term Rohingya in Myanmar.

So when Jack did break his Twitter silence and I saw it there, that word, their identity, denied and ignored for so long, I found myself having to pause to take a breath. For a few moments I could read neither what came before or what came after as my mind tried to process his tweet; because there, in the timeline of Jack Dorsey, founder and CEO of Twitter, was the word “Rohingya” and it was beautiful.

He is likely unaware of the significance of his tweet. Just as he was unaware of where his spiritual journey to meditate in Myanmar would land him. He may have inadvertently lent his support to a genocidal regime, for a short time. But with the power of one tweet, that one word acknowledged the existence of a million unrecognised refugees, confined to bamboo huts without any rights, and the thousands of Rohingya still trapped in internment camps, or hanging on to their existence in Myanmar, stateless, denied access to education and healthcare, and living in constant fear of what will happen next.

For both Twitter, without which thousands more Rohingya may have perished unknown and for that single tweet where he wrote the word Rohingya, I say thank you.

But what now? Jack says he needs to learn more and that he is listening. But let’s not stop here. A few tweets are a good start, but a tragic waste of an opportunity if this comes to nothing more. Twitter is a tool for communication, just like the telephone, and Facebook; a tool. It is powerful, because it connects people who need to be connected, who would not have been otherwise. It can be used for good and for bad. If Jack wants Twitter to be that force for good, he can’t just provide the tools and then let what happens unfold. He must be proactive in claiming this space for all that is beneficial. Twitter works at its best when tweets extend to real life action. Where better to start than with the ending of a genocide?  Please Jack, learn about the Rohingya and visit the survivors in the refugee camps in Bangladesh. Consider how can Twitter be used to help make sure that the Rohingya genocide is #TheLastGenocide.

 

Read our open letter to Jack here.