Could Twitter Have Saved Rwandan Lives?

Twitter plays the hero; Would it be crazy to say that if the Rwandan genocide happened today, lives might have been saved? Interviews and studies published in the last months suggest that the bloodshed of the 1994 slaughter, which killed up to 1 million people, might have been drastically reduced if the spread of social media happened merely one decade before.

Pictures showing the west exactly the harshness of the situation, would have put such a strong pressure on policy makers, that the UN would have never decided to withdraw its soldiers and politicians would have done whatever possible to gain more consensus.

Quite interestingly (and what led me to look into this topic more in depth) British former prime minister Gordon Brown, in a special interview to British leading newspaper The Guardian, went as far as stating that given the current spread of social media platforms “You cannot have Rwanda anymore”.

In the same field, a Canadian professor called Walter Dorn expressed a similar position on the matter, emphasising that “It is much more likely that the genocide could have been prevented, had there been social media at the time”.

Thinking of that terrible event in such ways it is hard to have a clear position, especially because re-imagining the course of historical events under different circumstances often turns out to be quite misleading.

In the case of Rwanda in particular, it is quite complicated to follow this path as politicians and the UN knew exactly what was going on and did not take the correct measures to save lives. Actually, the UN purposely withdrew its Blue Berets from Rwanda and the reasons behind this decision are still not clear.

The ongoing “internet revolution” is definitely more tumultuous than any previous social uprising. Social media websites have empowered individuals from all over the world to report breaking news, share stories and gather support for a cause. 
Social media platforms allow any individual to become a reporter by letting the world know what is happening in a certain place at a given time.

Something all of us are aware of, is that technological advancements have been a major feature of recent years, thanks to the spread and development of social media tools like Twitter around the world and the massive growth of mobile phone and smartphone usage. Social media usage has inevitably had effects on political foreign policy choices and in reporting faraway disasters.

These advances have brought a “democratisation of information”, meaning that specific areas of political competence are no longer the province of just a few elites. But how does this occur?

Foreign policy shaped by public opinion

Visual material such as videos and photos always help deliver a clear understanding of the gravity of the events. When thinking about the impact of social media in reporting faraway disasters, we should think about its ability to shape public opinion in a way that the political class feels forced to act. Gordon Brown himself said that “information would come out more quickly about what is actually going on and the public opinion would row to the point where action would need to be taken”.

We can associate therefore the so-called Twitter Revolution to the CNN-Effect of the 1990s. This refers to the influence of then-new 24h broadcast service on International Politics, which largely shaped public opinion and drove foreign policy in specific directions.

Kenya’s successful technology

When talking about this “social media revolution”, think of the recent Arab Spring, which started in Tunisia in 2011 and had strong domino effect throughout other North African countries also thanks to videos and pictures of protests spread through social media. The tole of social media was Important in allowing young protesters from different backgrounds to come together to fight for a common cause, and for those affected by the violence to spread videos and images all over the web in order to stimulate political action from developed countries.

In fact, the moment in which pictures showing thousands of children and families killed by chemical weapons in Syria in 2013 spread all over the web, generated massive discussions in the developed west which turned into immediate political debate on whether humanitarian intervention was necessary or not.

NGOs in line with digital developments

It is interesting also to look at the role of NGOs in the effectiveness of social media of reaching a wide number of people from across the world. The idea that they can create impact through the use of social media platforms by gathering support and aid has in fact led many organisations to increase the use of Facebook and Twitter among their information tools.

Annelie Abildgaard, head of communications at IBIS, one of Denmark’s leading development NGOs with programmes in different countries, emphasised how the use of social media by NGOs in Denmark is growing, by creating platforms for participating debates.

Referring to the potential of social media to shape public opinion and force the political elite to take action, Abildgaard emphasised how “creating awareness is crucial, by informing people and making them understand that they can act in a way that pushes the pressure on the political class to change and end poverty”.

“What I really like about social media” she added “is that it is way less elitist than radio and television as it holds a great democratic position. With social media, you don’t have to be someone to have a voice”.


Important points about how social media is not actually the devil. Its always been about using responsibly. Protect your smartphone with Urban Armor Gear for maximum responsibility: