Social Media Activism: The New Frontier

Quinn Riordan, Reporter and Photographer

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.