Social media, such as Facebook, is amazing — some in a good way and some in a not-so-good way, of course!
That it is able to galvanize people from all over the world — and really really quickly too — around a cause or behind a campaign etc. is amazing in a good way of course! And that’s what got me out of a really really sticky situation three years ago in Qatar!
Before Doha News and The Washington Post articles, before the Change.org petition, before the Free Dorje Gurung Facebook pages and Free Dorje Gurung Tumblr blog etc. about my predicament, came Facebook posts on my timeline by friends.
Looking at those first several posts and those that follow later, you get some sense for how the campaign began and progressed! Here’s a look at them! (All this, incidentally, is one of the things I discovered around the time I was sleepless in Kathmandu.)
I was incarcerated in Doha on May 1, 2013. But many colleagues didn’t know what had happened and at least some apparently were misinformed by the school that day. The school told them that I had been released and was in my apartment.
On May 3, two days later — I am assuming when my incarceration was confirmed — my friend Kat, who did NOT work at Qatar Academy (QA), makes the first post on my timeline.
As you can see, only two colleagues in Doha react to the post.
There are no posts after that until May 8 when a half-dozen posts appear. The first one is also from a QA colleague who, by that time, had already left the country, if I remember correctly.
No one engages with it.
That is followed by a post from a former QA colleague, who however was NOT in Qatar at the time. Obviously, she had learned about my incarceration from mutual friends at QA.
As you can see, all three posts are quite cryptic, deliberately and for good reason too, of course. I doubt most of the rest of my Facebook friends even saw those posts on my timeline. The few outside of Qatar, or not connected to Qatar, who might have seen them, most likely might not have thought twice about them either. What the posts are referring to is indeed impossible to decipher, which partly explains the lack of engagement. The other reason for the limited engagement, obviously Qatar and Qatar Academy being what they are — my colleagues and friends in the country had to tread pretty carefully, especially when there had been a gag order.
Then on the same day comes a post by my friend Kiran which receives one like and several comments, but all from Xaverian classmates.
Then comes my mate Tom’s post which receives a number of likes but no comments.
Then comes my friends Linda and Subina’s posts. No one engages with either of them, again probably for the same reason as above. Even by then, apart from my friends in Doha and Xaverian classmates, most friends probably still didn’t have a clue what had happened to me.
Then, Doha News publishes the first article and that changes everything!
What the cryptic posts intimated at becomes common knowledge to more and more friends and others and it does’t take long for thousands of people to become aware of my situation, inducing some to take action which end with my being released.
On May 9, after the publication of the Doha News article, there is almost a hundred posts either on my timeline or to which I am tagged!
The first several posts, starting with a link to the Doha News article (see below), are either more of the same or are posts of encouragement or posts saying that they are trying to do what they can.
Then links to the second Doha News article appear next.
Subsequent posts call for action and some friends also share the actions they are taking. The engagement levels increase steadily, but understandably, colleagues from Doha don’t participate and do their best to make something happen behind the scenes, two of them having already taken huge risks talking to Shabina Khatri, the Doha News journalist.
Then form letters for Qatari Embassies around the world appear, followed by links to the Free Dorje Gurung Facebook page as well as to the change.org petition.
One of the first posts on Free Dorje Gurung Facebook page reaches over 50 thousand users! The Change.org petition receives more than a thousand signatures within 24 hours of being set up.
Then links to the Washington Post article appear. And then more of the same.
There’s also a link to an article — no longer available — describing the Qatari Emir’s interest in supporting the UWC movement with “substantial gifts” and also a link to his Twitter account, his email address and a form email to send him.
References to emails to Embassy of Nepal in Doha appear. (A sad fact I discover much later, however, is that those emails were bouncing!)
The following day, May 10, my Facebook Timeline receives about 45 posts. On May 11 my Timeline receives twenty-eight posts, while May 12, the day I was released, was topped off by about 50 posts. May 13, the day I flew home, my Timeline receives 70 posts!
By the time I am released, Free Dorje Gurung Facebook page receives over 2500 likes. Posts on the page reach thousands of people!
Within just four days of its creation, the change.org petition receives over 14 thousand signatures from over 168 countries. At peak it receives 450 signatures per hour, making it one of the most popular and active petition for some time on the platform. That prompts some official from the platform to call a friend in the Free Dorje Gurung campaign Working Group and inquire, “Who is this Dorje Gurung guy?!”
Had it not been for social media and friends around the world, most likely I wouldn’t be here writing about all this. And that, of course, is amazing as well!!