Young activists all over the world use Twitter, Instagram and several other social networks and blogging platforms as tools for social change.
For Samer Alhato, a student studying Natural Science, Anthropology and Middle Eastern studies at Saint Xavier University, using Twitter to be loud and radical about issues plaguing our world is second nature. It wasn’t until his tweets started being taken out of context on Facebook by a page called SJP Uncovered that he realized how places of education can work to silence their students and, more importantly, activists.
My university is still trying to suspend me for this presentation so I’d appreciate anyone who could connect me with the media ??https://t.co/lNwoLxxRBI
— سامرSamer. (@WaladShami) December 6, 2016
Shortly after screenshots of several of Samer’s tweets we taken out of context by SJP Uncovered, the dean of students opened an investigation to look into whether Samer violated the Student Code of Conduct. The posts about Samer were sponsored on Facebook and paid for allowing them to reach a wider audience of people.
I took the time to chat with Samer about how these circumstances, including harassment, have impacted his activism and how he feels about young people being outspoken in the name of social justice.
How has your university opening an investigation on you impacted how you feel about using Twitter as a platform for your social activism?
It’s definitely triggered me. Twitter was my safe space. It was where I went to express my emotions uncensored. I got to share radical opinions on unpopular topics. Now that my university knows my Twitter and that it has been publicized by SJP Uncovered, I feel hurt that there’s a magnifying glass being held to my tweets now. Everything I say could be taken the wrong way, and I could be under fire for it.
The Facebook page, SJP Uncovered, has taken your tweets out of context and used them in a context that portrays you as hateful, what do you find is the biggest difficulty dealing with their harassment?
Their consistency. They’re never going away. They’re always going to be there, taking what I say out of context and threatening my safety. It’s scary because now I think, well, for the rest of my life there’s a watch group stalking what I say.
There is a photo of you in class that has surfaced on Buzzfeed and all over the internet during a presentation about the influence of America in the current Middle Eastern situation, subtitled “How White People F*cked Up My Homeland”, can you give us some insight on your perspective on what is going on in the Middle East and more about this presentation?
My presentation was about U.S. imperialism in the Middle East with a touch of shade thrown in for all the racist white folks that support American expansionism. I also discussed U.S. military funding to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Syrian Rebels. The whole point of my presentation was to deconstruct mainstream narratives with nuance and satire. I’m a vocal, passionate person, and I refuse to censor myself or my work.
Who are you finding the most supportive in this process at the moment?
A lot of people have been supportive. In particular my professor, Dr. Iman Saca, has been by my side throughout the entire situation. I’m always thankful for those who support me. I’m not a “special” or “unique” person. I just have truly compassionate people around me who support my cause.
Why is it so important for young people, especially students’ use of school environments and social media in creating transparency to allow for social change?
I believe we all as students, staff, administrators, and faculty need to actively listen to each other’s voices stating concerns for both individuals and student groups. It is imperative to recognize the various identities and lived experiences we hold, how they intersect with one another and the outcomes of social influences or social suppression of which led to my explicit words and raw expression on Twitter. Young people are directly at the receiving end of financial, social, and political policies. We have the time and opportunities to mobilize, educate, and grow together. That’s why it’s imperative we work together now, more than ever.
Is there anything you would like to tell people who are feeding into this hateful rhetoric that causes activists and social science students like yourself to be afraid of voicing their opinion? Is there anything you would like to tell other young activists who may be afraid of being in or in a similar situation?
I’d tell them that they’re wasting their time. I came to accept who I was a long time ago. I’ve accepted that activism, from now on, is my way of life. No amount of bigotry or hateful sentiment can change that. My most important message to young activists is to never censor themselves. Express yourself as rawly as possible. Continue to put forward controversial work. Hold your head up high and speak out whenever you can. Never apologize to anyone because you intentionally fail to accommodate their white/colonial/orientalist/patriarchal imagination of what our homelands and heritage is.
Samer’s story is just one of many students who feel silenced and censored after having their social activism taken out of context. Knowing that Twitter is a platform to educate, organize, and mobilize grassroots movements is so important for faculties of higher education to understand activism today. I stand with Samer and his fierce activism. The voices of activists can not always be polite, but they are our voices and they need to be heard.