#Hazaras Tweet Bombing the Munich Security Conference #MSC2017
Saturday morning, February 18, day two of the Munich Security Conference, and the #MSC2017 hashtag on Twitter is being tweet bombed by activists. Instead of world leaders making speeches, the hashtag was dominated by images of Afghanistan and words of protest. It was social media warfare in action.
Hazaras activists targeted the security conference to raise the profile of the plight of the Hazaras people in Afghanistan, who, they claim, are being persecuted by the current Afghani administration of President Ashraf Ghani. Tweeters joined physical protesters outside the Bayerischer Hof, where the Munich Securiy Conference is being held.
The Hazaras are a Persian-speaking ethnic group living in Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, with immigrant populations in Canada and Australia. Around 6 million Hazaras live in Afghanistan, making them the third largest ethnic group in the country. Activists claim that they are being persecuted because of racial and religious differences with the dominant Pashtun population.
Before the conference opened, activist leaders around the world were already promoting the #MSC2017 hashtag for the forthcoming protest wave. Web designer Keyhan Farahmand, a Hazara living in Sydney, Australia, tweeted the
#Justice4Hazaras hashtag to mobilize others on February 15. Former senior producer at BBC World Service (Persian), Daoud Naji, was another vocal proponent of Hazaras’ cause, also promoting the hashtag to his 3,000+ followers on Twitter.
Kabul Suicide Bombing
Many of the activists focused on one specific event. On 23 July 2016 suicide bombers attacked the #Enlightenment_Movement protest march in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital. The mostly Hazara protesters were marching against the decision to bypass their region in the development of the TUTAP power project. At least 97 people were killed and 260 injured. The terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) initially claimed responsibility, but later denied it. Many Hazaras believe that the government was behind the attack.[ref] One tweeter posted a video of the 2016 Kabul bombing. Others were sharing images of the dead and injured in the aftermath of the terror blast.
Battle of the Narrative
The tweet wave was like suppressing fire: the mainstream stories being promoted by the conference organisers disappeared. With limited resources and no apparent central organisation, the Hazaras activists were winning the battle of the narrative.
Update Sunday, 19 Feb. 2017
The Munich Security Conference responded later on Saturday by blocking @hazaranet, the Twitter account of the Hazaras’ rights website Hazara.net, from tweeting the conference, or seeing conference tweets. But into Sunday, the tweet bombs kept falling on that hashtag #MSC2017.
Twitter trand analysts ranked #MSC2017 as one of the top trending hashtags of 18 Feb. Trendinalia placed it fourth in the UK, fourth in Austria, third in Sweden and second in Pakistan (data for other countries was unavailable).
Photo: German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses the Munich Security Conference, 18 Feb. 2017 (MSC/Kuhlmann, 2017).