17 May Activism in the Age of Social Media
271 million Twitter users publish 500 million tweets online every single day, facilitating the collection of an almost inconceivable amount of public commentary. While many tweets may discuss trivial matters like the latest Kardashian drama, the newest Netflix shows, or even the shocking story of an Instagram-famous egg, the platform is also home to significant political public discourse.
It’s no secret that social media has emerged as one of the greatest outlets for activism. Movements such as #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter and more recently, Alabama’s abortion ban have garnered tremendous awareness for their respective social issues through the simple click of a few buttons. Hashtags are short, simple, and easy to remember. News reporting is no longer limited to traditional reporters. Rather, it’s placed in the hands of the people. Through the power of a 280 character tweet or a 300-word Instagram post, anyone can report on social issues.
Recently, this phenomenon has made me think about how people – especially our generation – engage in activism. Often, social media is used as a means of popularizing heart-wrenching tragedies. Social media opens our eyes to the hundreds of Indigenous women who are either missing or murdered. To the shooting that takes place in a school in Southern Florida. To yet another Hollywood actor who is accused of sexually assaulting a co-worker.
In the moment, people (inevitably and rightly) get upset. In an attempt to mitigate the social issue at hand, there is a mass surge in hashtags and cries for help. As time passes, the spike of media attention falls away, moving on to the next big thing that catches the attention of the public – whatever that may be.
Digital activism is often applauded for generating visibility. Let’s think about the #MeToo movement for a minute. What was the initial purpose of this movement? For people to realize the magnitude of sexual assault and violence-related issues. In that sense, media platforms were extremely valuable in garnering awareness and support.
But, is digital activism always beneficial?
Many people argue that activist work through social media is useless. It’s apathetic, not passionate. Passive, not active. Self-interested, not altruistic. Rather than putting in the effort required for substantial activism, people invest a mere 30 seconds of engagement. Reposting a hashtag makes the person behind the screen feel good about themselves and feel as if they’ve made a difference.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that activism through social media serves no purpose. In my opinion, it does. Social media has educated me about important issues that I may otherwise not have been exposed to. Social media breaks down barriers. It allows people of all ethnicities, races, religions, genders, sexualities, and socio-economic standings to participate in a global conversation. That, in and of itself, is powerful.
But, I would be naive to ignore the uncomfortable nature that lies beneath the constant shifting of one big issue to the next. How do people commit themselves to activist work on social media platforms?
Why is commitment important?
Is it even important?
Would I be a fraud if I posted about every social issue that aggravated me, but I wasn’t actually passionate about each one?
What does effective advocacy even look like in the all-consuming whirlwind of the online world we live in?
I’m 18 years old. You can be sure as hell that I don’t have the answers. Quite frankly, I don’t think one right answer exists for each of those questions, nor do I think a single person has the power to dictate what is the best way to advocate online. Who would I be to tell you that you’re a bad person for posting about the epidemic of #ClimateChange?
I am certain of one thing: advocacy is more than just a hashtag. It’s more than just getting super angry about the biggest thing on social media, posting about it, then moving on. Social media platforms are a means, not an end, for political action.
I want to do more.
We need to do more.
So if you want to make your online and IRL activism more sustainable and meaningful, I’ve come up with a few suggestions:
- Acknowledge the power of social media for recruitment and mobilization –capitalize on that. Education is power.
- Combine digital activism with traditional forms of activism such as street protests, marches, boycotts, and civil disobedience.
- As Barack Obama once said – “Don’t boo, vote!” He’s a smart man, listen to him.
- Link relevant articles, key figures, and government and NGO websites to your post. This empowers your followers by connecting them with the established groups for the cause.
- Respect everyone’s opinions online – don’t be a #hater just to hate. Constructive conversations are meaningful. Hating just to hate – not cool.
- Acknowledge your own privilege. You may not be directly impacted by the issue at hand. Use your privilege to help amplify the stories of the marginalized groups that are directly impacted by the social issue at hand. What are we going to do with this information? Don’t let the conversation stop once the online world moves on to the next big thing. Keep it going.
This list is just scratching the surface. Despite spending upwards of 3 hours a day on my phone (#yikes), I’m still learning how to navigate social media as an activist. So let’s not stop the conversation here. Let’s think critically about how we advocate online and ensure we put both meaning, awareness and action behind every activist post. A hashtag is a step, but it’s not the end all and be all. Now let’s get off our booties and #GetToWork. Are you ready?
Header Photo Source: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/online-activism-real-effective-get-used-boyd-neil/