Congo M23 rebels build Facebook following in face of UN pressure

The Facebook following of Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) rebel group M23 continues to grow as the government struggles to regain control of its eastern regions in the face of the group’s violent campaign.

HumanIPO reported in October that the notorious rebel group – named after a peace agreement reached on March 23 2009 which has since been broken – had opened a Facebook account and was gathering support through the social media site.

According to the March 23 agreement, M23 was accepted as a branch of the DRC national army, achieving a peaceful compromise which lasted until April of this year. At this point a dispute erupted over wages and living conditions, prompting M23 members to leave the national army and embark upon a campaign of violence against the government’s army, causing disruption to civilians.

When HumanIPO reported on the Facebook group on October 22, M23 had received 1,600 “likes” and was posting regular updates as to the group’s progress, member profiles, and photographs of the campaign. The group was also using Facebook to contact interested overseas parties and was organising meets abroad for sympathisers.

Exactly one month later, a quick visit to the Facebook page reveals not only that it is still active, but that the members of the group appear to have increased updates to the page and M23’s online following has seen a substantial spike in the intermittent time, now boasting 6,125 “likes”.

Having displaced an estimated 500,000 people to date in the Eastern regions of the DRC, the M23 group has committed widespread murder, violence, rape and pillaging on its rampage against the government forces.

While the UN Security Council has adopted a resolution on the matter, calling for sanctions to be issued against members and generally condemning the actions of the group, M23 remains steadfast, insisting it will not pull out of the Eastern region and on Wednesday threatening to march on the DRC capital, Kinshasa.

Although international attention should be centred on halting the violence on the ground and preventing the outbreak of a renewed civil war in the DRC, a sub-question also rears its head in the M23 context.

Should use of social media sites for the promotion of violent, crime-committing groups be allowed? Or is this a context in which rules should be in place, and censorship should be conducted? Where is the line between freedom of speech and association, and the need to protect the public interest?

Join the debate @HumanIPO using the hashtag #SocialMediaCensorship

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