Does social media activism work?

September 20, 2019

The double tap is crap

My sophomore year, Civics became a required class at LT that all sophomores had to take. With it came the Take Action Project (TAP). The idea of TAP was to teach students about the importance of taking meaningful action to solve a problem. Sadly, most of the time TAP became nothing more than the creation of an Instagram account that posted a few times before becoming dormant once the grade was in.

The TAP Instagrams are a great example of why using social media as a platform for change doesn’t work. Social media activism soared with the rise of Instagram. New accounts and hashtags flood social media platforms every day, each new hashtag burying an old one.

The main problem with social media activism is that it only creates awareness about a problem, without doing anything beyond that. With no call to action or clear set of goals to achieve, people forget about it and move on with their lives. Awareness is the first step to solving many of the problems that these activists wish to solve, but without a second or third step, the problems remain unsolved. In the best activism campaigns there are charities created people going door to door collecting donations, and countless calls to local representatives. A tweet saying #feminism isn’t the only thing people can do to create change, and it shouldn’t be.

In the right situation, activism on social media can be an instrument of change. Both the Women’s March and March For Our lives used social media to connect people across the globe to create change and organize marches. The #Metoo movement shed a light on the harsh realities of sexual assault. However, hashtags and Instagram pages aren’t all encompassing solutions to every world problem.

Another popular method of causing online change is the website change.org, where users can create and sign petitions about any issue under the sun. Change.org was created with good intentions, but no matter how many signatures a petition gets, its ability to create change is limited. A petition is a helpful tool if it’s being used by community members to show local support for a measure being passed by the city council, but does nothing to stop the Amazon from burning. Petitions aren’t an end all solution, but because they are convenient, they are treated as such.

The reason people gravitate towards signing an online position or posting something on social media is because it’s easy. It gives them the satisfaction of doing good, but there is no sacrifice of time or money.

Another problem with social media activism is that there are so many posts on the internet that many troubles get pushed aside within days or even hours because of something new going on. The internet is designed to show us whatever is the newest, so no matter how important something is, it gets buried. There is no algorithm on twitter to remind users of the important issues the world faces.

Change takes time. Real and lasting change takes thousands of hours of work from countless people, more than that, it takes patience, the patience to understand that there is no quick and easy fix to all the troubles we face. Step one to create change is awareness. Social media makes people aware, but it’s what we do with that awareness that matters.

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Social Media Activism: The New Frontier

Social media has grown to be an essential part of every teens’ lives. Yet, social media activism continuously receives a bad reputation. Activists are labeled as “feminazis” or “social justice warriors.” Social media can spread misinformation, fake news and alternative or out-dated facts. Social media activism is sometimes described as Slacktivism or being a “feel-good” measure without accomplishing anything tangible.

This is resoundingly untrue.

Since 1999, social media has been used to form and fuel grassroot campaigns and social movements. The principal purpose is to spread information faster than ever before. A total of 2.48 billion people use social media worldwide, according to Statista.

 Social media was used to embolden the Arab Spring, one of the largest and first instances of a massive scale social media movement. The Arab Spring started in Tunisia in December 2010. The Tunisian Revolution was a campaign of civil resistance against unemployment and corruption. Social media was the driving force behind the spread of the democratic revolution as more and more people aimed to gain more freedoms. This caused a wave of similar protests throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa. As a result, Tunisia is now classified as free by the Freedom House organization.

Although the final outcome of the Arab Spring is still debated, there is no doubt that social media was a powerful organizational instrument. Social media gave power to the people when they had so little allowing them to connect and protest for a cause.

“What’s so interesting and so meaningful about social media and social movements is just how quickly people can mobilize through social media,” Rachel Einwohner, a sociology professor at Purdue University said in an interview with USA Today.

Movements such as #Blacklivesmatter, #Metoo, and #TimesUp have inspired campaigns of thousands of people. Originating from just a hashtag, they have grown into worldwide movements with political and social sway. Five years after the creation of the hashtag, the Black Lives Matter movement has become a quintessential example of social media activism and its success. The hashtag has been used nearly 30 million times on Twitter which is an average of 17,003 times per day, as stated in a Pew study. #BlackLivesMatter is a symbol of a greater trend: the flourishing importance of social media in all different kinds of activist movements.

Since the Black Lives Matter movement began, activists have developed specific policy recommendations and legislation. Using social media awareness, the movement has gained power and support, whether through a like, a tweet, or in-person participation.

“People who are tweeting or liking things on Facebook are also participating in marches,” Einwohner said. “They’re also having face to face conversations with neighbors, and they’re also calling their congressmen.”

Whether though a little action such as an Instagram post or calling a senator and lobbying for a bill, activism is activism. Social media activism is important and valuable in building awareness and change for issues.

When we have social media, we have a voice.

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