Before this week’s topic of “social media activism” was brought up in class on Monday, I had never sat down and actively considered it. Sure, I have seen (and used) frames that support different causes on Facebook profile pictures, noticed online petitions floating around, and even donated to a few causes here and there, but I guess I just viewed those things as ‘another part of the internet’ without thinking about them from a critical standpoint.
After browsing through some online articles and resources this week, these are my highlights and current thoughts on social media activism:
1 – A Bridge to Real-Life Action
Shelby Brown, the author of this article, outlines her personal journey with activism, describing how her passion for a cause (women’s rights to make decisions about their own bodies) began with using a Facebook frame and ended with volunteering weekly at a Planned Parenthood. This personal story of activism highlights the ability for social media activism to act as a bridge, or stepping stone, to real-life action.
Rather than going all-in for a cause right away, social media activism allows for a more gradual journey of activism. People who might be initially interested in an issue can dip their toes in slowly before committing to a more active role.
In my own life, I have experienced a gradual increase in involvement in a cause: Dressember.
One of my Facebook friends has been an active supporter of Dressember for several years now, and I would nonchalantly ‘like’ the posts and read some of the information about the organization. After being a passive observer for a few years, I accepted the invitation my Facebook friend issued online to be more involved by donning a dress one day in December, donating to the cause, and posting about it on my own Facebook to spread the word. I might not be ready to commit to the full month of dressing up, but I became more involved as a direct result of seeing my friend’s Dressember posts on social media.
While social media activism can be a powerful way to reach more people, I believe that the underlying hope is that social media activism will cause tiny ripples that eventually lead to real-life activism as well.
2 – Understand the Root of the Movement
Researching a cause in order to understand its core values and intentions is a key step in social media activism, according to the same article by Shelby Brown. In the barrage of content available on the internet, it is easy to become complacent and share posts without being fully informed. Take the extra steps to ensure you know what you are supporting.
3 – Social Media Can Increase Accessibility
One of the reasons social media activism can be so effective is its ability to be far-reaching. Rather than being pigeonholed into one medium, social media campaigns can be shared and seen by many more people. This provides access to information that some people might not have had otherwise. Both of the articles (below) discuss social media’s ability to increase access to information.
4 – Helpful or Performative?
Finally, social media activists need to be aware of the difference between true activism and performative activism. This article provides a clear distinction (screenshot below) between the two:
Shelby Brown explains the difference as actively hearing stories of those who are impacted (activism), versus simply trying to share one’s own opinion (performative). When engaging in social media activism, we need to be aware of our own privilege and focus on creating platforms for silenced voices to be heard, rather than perpetuating the same dominant discourses.
The next time I see a social justice campaign or think about sharing something, I will be considering it through these social media activism lenses. During my research this week, I came across this lesson plan for introducing a conversation on digital activism with students. I think my responses to the prompts from the lesson (below) sum up my current thoughts on social media activism.
- Agree – if used in the right way, social media can increase accessibility and act as a pathway to get people involved IRL
- Agree – engaging online can be a less intimidating first-step, but the ultimate goal is getting people to take action outside of social media
- Agree – I feel that each generation becomes more and more social-justice-minded because they are connected to diverse people and perspectives from around the world – thanks to technology
- Disagree – engaging in social media activism is a real and valid form of activism
What are your thoughts on social media activism?
What do you think about the 4 prompts above? Agree, Disagree, or Undecided?
Until next time,