Social media users are changing their profile pictures to blue to express solidarity with protesters in Sudan in the wake of a brutal crackdown that killed dozens of people in the capital, Khartoum.
The blue wave has spread across various platforms via the #BlueForSudan hashtag, as Twitter and Instagram users attempt to honour the memory of one of the victims: Mohamed Mattar, whose favourite colour was reportedly blue.
The 26-year-old engineer was fatally shot during the June 3 crackdown blamed by protesters on Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary group led by a senior member of Sudan’s ruling Transitional Military Council.
Mattar was reportedly shot while trying to protect two women during the bloody dispersal of the protest camp outside the military headquarters.
“Once he was murdered, his friends and family changed their profile picture to match his, and eventually other people began to join in,” said Shahd Khidir, a friend of Mattar’s and a beauty influencer on Instagram who asked her followers to change their profile pictures to blue – as the image on Mattar’s Instagram account.
“Now [the colour] represents all of the Sudanese people who have fallen in the uprising.”
The sit-in, which began on April 6, was the culmination of months of protests against Sudan’s longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir. He was removed in a coup on April 11, but protesters remained at the site calling for civilian rule, until the crackdown.
Since then, the country’s military rulers have reduced internet access, leading to what rights groups have described as a near-total shutdown on June 10, leaving protesters more detached from the outside world.
In a country where the state tightly monitors traditional media outlets, the internet provided a space for Sudanese to communicate with those inside and outside the country. Protesters and self-styled citizen journalists used social media to organise demonstrations and also to share updates from the uprising with the rest of the world.
Some images from the country went viral, including a striking photo of a young woman standing on top of a car addressing fellow protesters.
The shutdown has presented a significant challenge to the Sudanese diaspora, which has played a key role in spreading information from the protest movement internationally. Those outside Sudan have been forced to rely on phone calls or word of mouth to receive information from the ground, without any visual footage, which they, in turn, share on social media.
“Sudan is literally in the dark right now,” said 25-year-old Aza Elnimah, a young Sudanese professional based in Qatar. “We don’t know what’s happening. So if something happens, how are we gonna be able to get that footage out? The only way we can reach our families now is through telephone, but that still isn’t enough.”
In the days after the attack on the sit-in, the #IAmTheSudanRevolution hashtag was endorsed by the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), the group which has spearheaded the months-long protests. Sudan’s diaspora heard the call and the hashtag trended in a number of countries. Since then, stories about Sudan have gained momentum online, particularly since the colour blue began to go viral.
“People didn’t pick it up right away, but the rest of the Sudan population adopted that colour because it was working in a way that was gaining attention,” Elnimah said.
“People kept asking questions – like, why is everyone changing their profile picture to that color? It’s kind of allowing us to control the narrative again by telling people what’s happening and answering their questions.”
Instagram user Lucrezia Brunetti said: “People are unified by this color, It’s something so simple, but it symbolises so much, it symbolises that people care.
For some in the wider Sudanese community, the #BlueForSudan campaign has brought hope.
“In the beginning, it felt like no one cared,” said Elnimah. “But now, it’s refreshing to know that Sudan is on people’s radars.”