AT the turn of 2011, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, wrote an article for the Economist’s special issue of predictions about how the world will be in 2012. It was at a time of revolutions; the Arab spring was sweeping through Middle Eastern counties, and the role of social media in the revolutions was the hot topic.
In the article, Sandberg talked about two things that would be of increased interest in the year to come: Zuckerberg’s law of sharing, and the corollary of caring.
Most people probably don’t know that Zuckerberg has his own law. It is a social network equivalent to Moore’s law about the geometric increase in computing power. Zuckerberg says that every year, the amount of information shared on social networks will double. And this is where the corollary of caring fits in. In Sandberg’s words, “corollary of caring asserts that as we increase the amount of social information online we will also increase our response to that information in both words and actions.” When we share more news, we care more about what is going on, we react more readily.
In 2013 we see the implications of this law gripping Bangladesh.
February saw the biggest secular youth uprising in recent Bangladesh history at Shahbagh. How it started is unthinkable in a country like Bangladesh, where only 5% of the population has access to the internet. The Shahbagh movement was born online, through some bloggers calling for protests. What started with a small group’s protest quickly spread through Facebook. In the days that followed, thousands of people gathered together. A connection had been made, people knew that there were others who cared.
The random person sharing memes all day was suddenly part of it, the middle-aged uncle with the passport sized profile picture was part of it, and they all reached out together.
For those who thought that was the end of it, there was more to come. Just a month after the youth surprised everyone with their sudden awakening, Baridhara Housing Society surprised the nation by banning rickshaw-pullers from wearing lungis inside Baridhara.
The news reached the national papers, everyone was outraged. But this time, instead of forgetting about it, the Facebook page with more than 100,000 likes, Moja Loss, created an event where everyone would march to Baridhara Park wearing a lungi.
It was a simple act organised online, but the response was strong. Most of the protestors themselves would not wear a lungi at home, but what they all shared was the same concern for human rights. The high court eventually issued an order to the Baridhara Housing Society asking them to justify their reasons behind banning the lungi.
But the most overwhelming reaction of all was the most recent one, after the Savar tragedy, where a garments building collapsed and killed more than 350 workers, injuring thousands. Before the government got there, before the medical supplies had reached them, there were posts popping up on Facebook and twitter, asking for blood donations. Makeshift blood collection stalls were put up at Shahbagh, this caused other donation drives to set off, and soon so many litres of blood had been donated that there was an excess.
One just had to log on these social networking sites to see a list of supplies that were still needed. Oxygen cylinders, torches, gloves, suture threads, everything was being provided through a collective initiative. Pharmaceutical companies were sending carloads of medical supplies, and medical interns from all over the city flocked to Savar to help.
A nation was in mourning, and this feeling of gloom was turned to strength. The more people saw photos of locals digging through dirt, risking their lives to save others, the more they wanted to help.
Such action had not been there when the Spectrum garments factory collapsed a few years back. But had social networking been as strong as now, the situation would certainly have been different.
Furthermore, the news of the garments collapse had reached throughout the international world and fashion conscious teenagers in America are now tweeting about the disaster in Savar.
Through all the depressing news, knowing that we have grown stronger as a community offers a glimmer of hope. The vitality of social networks can also be used negatively to incite mindless hate. But our generation has finally reached political consciousness through the Shahbagh movement, and now is the time to remember the corollary of caring. Seeing, we must act.
The writer is a former Rising Star’s writer at The Daily Star.