Access to social media sites in Azerbaijan is unrestricted, and Facebook is by far the most popular site, with over 1.4 million people in Azerbaijan active. However, this freedom comes with a price, as the government has implemented measures that encourage users, especially younger generations, to impose self-censorship and avoid the site altogether. This article, claiming that social media leads to “mental problems”, was published four days prior to a “11 March Great People’s Day” activism event organized through Facebook. Another article, from Xerxeber.com, details “internet addiction” as a “plague of the twenty-first century”. Apparently, some universities have even warned students with threats of bad grades or detentions if they participate in political activism via social media (but these claims have yet to be confirmed). Additionally, there are countless instances of the government using activists’ Facebook posts as evidence in order convict them of crimes.
This rather unconvincing government propaganda hasn’t had much effect though, because even in the face of hard government repression, activists still use social media to organize political demonstrations and get information of government corruption out in the open. On January 19, 2013, hackers from Anonymous obtained and released 1.7 GB worth of documents from the Special State Protection Service of Azerbaijan, posting the material as images on Imgur, a social media photo site, after which the entire platform was temporarily blocked for users in Azerbaijan. [x x] That same month, a rally was organized through through the Facebook page “Əsgər Ölumlərinə SON” and held in Baku to protest against the death of military conscript Ceyhun Qubadov. Kadija Ismaliyova, arguably one of the most famous investigative (and now imprisoned) reporters, published a note following the event, revealing that the “police applied excessive use of force and arbitrarily detained” a group of journalists including Ismayilova. [x]
Therefore, despite the governments to stifle the people’s voices, both citizens and journalists use social media as a way to share opinions and information that may not make it out in forms of traditional media.