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Friday, 27 January 2017

The Case for Social Media Activism

Social media activism has blown up in the past few years. French flags and rainbows tint our profile pictures in support of the victims of brutal attacks and we fling buckets of ice water over our heads to raise awareness for ALS. Hashtags seeking justice and social change litter my newsfeed; #OscarsSoWhite, #JeSuisCharlie, #LoveWins and #RefugeesWelcome.

I have been hesitant to join such displays of support in the past. I felt like a fraud, that I only had a right do these things if I was actively doing something in real life to help. It felt transient and self-centred. Did I need everyone else to know that I thought these things were important? It seemed to me that adding a flag to my selfie was just a way creating a positive self-image. It made me look like a good person but as far as I was concerned that wasn’t what activism was about.

It is true that in comparison to traditional forms of activism, such as volunteering, consumer boycotts or lobbying, social media activism pales. It in fact seems incredibly passive. We cheer from the sidelines and avoid doing the hard, but necessary, stuff.

There are instances however where social media has been able to create a material difference, for example with #OscarsSoWhite. This was created to draw attention to the lack of racial diversity in 2016 Oscar nominations. As a result of the huge support shown, a number of celebrities announced that they would boycott the Oscars in protest and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said that it would make significant changes to its voting requirements in order to increase diversity.

I have to ask myself if any of this would have happened had it not been for the use of a hashtag online. The worldwide pressure that we are able to place on an institution is greater with the internet than without it. The sheer number of people that are able to be involved allows us to globally shame organisations into abandoning unethical practices. In this sense the immense awareness that social media creates can cause more traditional methods of activism to take place. It is a sort of prefatory activism that spreads the word and encourages further engagement.

Social media activism can also be incredibly financially important for a cause as it provides them with free exposure. This means that the little money a cause does have can be spent elsewhere and make a material difference in provoking change. Not only that, but the increased awareness caused by social media acitivism can also lead to increased funding. Whilst it might be true that many of us who press the retweet button do not simultaneously donate to the cause, some do. Many of the people who do donate may not have even known that the issue existed had it not been for social media activism.

Perhaps, rather than criticising social media activism for not being the same as the traditional forms that we’re used to, we should take it for what it is. It is a new and different form of activism and as such we cannot expect it to have the same effect as conventional methods. Often social media can encourage these typical forms and still bring about astonishing change. Perhaps in simply raising awareness we are showing support for our fellow human beings. There is certainly something to be said for a hashtag. It says, “I hear you. I stand with you.” That being said, it remains important to then stand physically with those who need it and not disregard them when our support is required the most.



P.S. I wrote this post after listening to a podcast by Emma Gannon (Ctrl, Alt, Delete) with Scarlett Curtis about her new project with Arden Rose and Emma Bates called The Unidle Collective. This encourages people to take one action per week in order to transfer social media activism into your daily life. If you want to find out more about it you can find them at www.theunidlecollective.com or on instagram at @theunidlecollective. I think that its clear from social media that lots of people are passionate about various causes but don’t necessarily know how to go about supporting them in a concrete way. I think that groups such as this can be really helpful in these cases.
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2 comments

  1. Love this post! I think social media is an amazing tool to share what is going on in the world and if you feel like its something you need to protest then you can add your voice and therefore amplify the issue.

    My concern is that people think activism stops there. They share a post or sign an online petition but leave it there. That isn't enough now and people need to stop being lazy and get out and be proactive.

    Abigail Alice 💕

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    Replies
    1. I completely agree. Social media activism needs to be a reminder of the things we should do to help rather than be seen as a solution in itself xx

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