Sudan’s Internet Ban Silences Online Revolutionaries, Yet Instagrammers Are Exploiting The Crisis For More Followers

As the political crisis in Sudan deepens, internet usage has been shut down by the ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC), which said it was necessary in the interests of “national security.” Despite lack of internet access, Instagram users elsewhere have been taking advantage of Sudan relief organizations, using various usernames to gain more followers.

During the mass protests that prompted the military’s outing of Omar al-Bashir as president, almost everyone in Khartoum, Sudan were glued to their phones. The main entity organizing demonstrations was the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), who would make their announcement via its Facebook page, which had over 800,000 followers. Thousands of others used Twitter and Facebook to galvanize their efforts to demand a return to civilian rule.

Now, in the wake of the ban, there is an overwhelming feeling of isolation. Not only are the demonstrators no longer able to gather, but they have found it difficult to communicate and share their disappointment, frustration, and anger at the turn of events. 

According to BBC, the ban also leaves the population isolated from the rest of the world; and in the days after the crackdown, those in the diaspora were desperate to contact friends and family.

The internet shutdown is reportedly costing businesses millions of dollars, according to local newspapers, its something the country cannot afford- given that economic problems were the catalyst of the protests in December.

In other parts of the world, Instagram users have bombarded the social networking platform with hundreds of accounts similar to #SudanMealProject, claiming to help but ultimately are only trying to acquire thousands of followers for themselves. Sudan Meal Project, the largest of these accounts, gained nearly 400,000 followers in less than a week; joined by hundreds of similar accounts such as #SudanMealProjectOfficial, #SudanMealOfficial, #sudan.meals.project, #mealsforsudan, and #Sudanmealprojec.t.

According to Sudan Meal Project’s IG bio, “We’re committed to donating up to 100,000 meals to Sudanese civilians,” @SudanMealProject’s bio read. The only post on the account promises, “For every STORY REPOST this post gets, we will provide one meal to Sudanese children, and you will help spread awareness on what’s happening in Sudan.”

However, UNICEF communications specialist Joe English said, “It’s incredibly difficult to send meals to Sudan.” The Atlantic reached out to the Instagram page administrator and reported that the account could provide no proof that they were working with any aid organizations, nor could the administrator back up any of the claims made in the account’s posts. “What I am obtaining is followers and exposure,” the administrator for #SudanMealProject told the reporter. “… I love how the left likes to twist these stories.”

The Atlantic contacted Instagram, and the company has since removed the account for violating its policies. However, many duplicate accounts are still active. “We will continue to look into this matter and disable further accounts we find in violation of our policies,” an Instagram spokesperson said.

The Associated Press reports a group associated with pro-democracy protesters known as the Sudanese Doctors Central Committee, claim 108 people have been killed and more than 500 have been wounded, however ruling military council has dismissed those numbers. The military-controlled Health Ministry later put the death toll at 61.

Superstar Rihanna took to her Instagram last week to raise awareness for the Sudan massacres and riots, sharing 500 Sudan residents have been killed, 723 injured, 48 women raped, 6 men raped, 1000 missing and 650 arrested.

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