Human Rights in a Tweeted World

Each day thousands of social media users join “awareness groups” that draw attention to the human rights violations occurring around the globe. Groups like “Save Darfur” and “ONE” provide social media users with information about specific human rights violations and create opportunities for users to donate to specific initiatives intended to alleviate human suffering. How social media creates awareness about human rights abuses amongst its users is fascinating to explore from a rhetorical perspective because it allows us to ask the provocative, although oft ignored question: How do we write the wrongs we hope to right?

In other words, how do human rights groups use words, images, and social media to bring their respective problems to the attention of the public? Our work in this course will begin with an examination of the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Approved by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, this document continues to supply the definition of “human” that informs the legislative decisions of governments all over the world, and provides the criteria by which the United Nations and other countries take political and military action against nations engaging in human rights abuses. We will examine a diversity of texts, from personal memoirs to philosophical treatise and of course social media sites, which address various human rights abuses, and, as we will see, many of these texts draw upon the language and tenets of the UDHR in order to write wrongs. At times, the texts we read and the films we watch will challenge our sensibilities and draw us toward somber reflection; however, we will also find moments to laugh together as we explore the rhetorical power of humor to provide levity and hope, two human responses often present in the face of tragedy.

Our work will be varied—we will write essays, make short films, and work closely with others—but ultimately our goal is to develop a nuanced understanding of the rhetorical power of language to create the “wrongs” that we somehow hope to right through our rhetorical actions.

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