When many of us think of Social Media and Social Justice, immediate images of trending hashtags, support-a-cause profile images, and a cycle of retweets from the comfort of one’s couch may come to mind. This image is so pervasive that we’ve even named it. Slacktivism, as defined by Oxford Dictionary, is comprised of “Actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement.”
In some regards, it is fair to be critical of the use of social media for activism. How effective is a tweet, really? What help does a trending topic bring? How does a meme create change? Ritu Sharma of Social Media for Nonprofits wrote in a post for HuffPost Impact that the goal of clicktivism (internet activism) is to “bring awareness to a cause that we otherwise wouldn’t know about.” So, if we adjust our lens to consider awareness as the true goal of social media activism, then we could say that there is some benefit to this form of advocacy. #BringBackOurGirls got many Westerners concerned about the terrorism Boko Haram ravaged on Nigeria by kidnapping more than 200 girls from village school houses. Similarly, #IfTheyGunnedMeDown sparked conversations about the differential treatment of Black and White victims of police violence in the media after the death of Mike Brown, an unarmed Black teen in Ferguson, MO.
But activism on social media can spark action in the real word as well. The hashtag #NMOS14 (National Moment of Silence 2014) was used to organize a series of vigils across the country for those who had fallen victim to police brutality this year. More than 90 communities in 35 states held vigils at the same hour on August 14th in a stand of solidarity and remembrance. On an even larger scale, the #IceBucketChallenge flooded Facebook timelines this summer with people dumping ice on themselves to raise awareness for ALS. And while the viral videos brought this neurodegenerative disease to the forefront of many minds, the ALS Foundation also raised over 100 million dollars for research through this campaign. So, despite criticism, it is clear, people didn’t just dump; they donated, too.
My final thought in an #SAchat on this same topic was that social media can be conduit for social justice. Spreading awareness is important. The first step to effecting change is making others aware that there is in fact a problem. In the words of Celina Villanueva, “Facebook and Twitter will never replace voting or marching, but it’s a tool to organize; a way to convince your friends to register to vote or be aware of a cause.” We can’t dismiss that value.
Bowean, L. (2011). Using Social media to promote social justice. Retrieved from http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-01-29/news/ct-met-civil-rights-summit-20110129_1_social-media-social-justice-facebook-page
Christensen, H. S. (2011). Political activities on the internet: Slacktivism or political participation by other means? Retrieved from http://firstmonday.org/article/view/3336/2767#author
Freelon, K. (2014). The #nmos14 started on twitter, organized on facebook, and looks to connect people IRL tonight. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2014/08/14/the-nmos14-started-on-twitter-organized-on-facebook-and-looks-to-connect-people-irl-tonight/
Sharma, R. (2014). Stop pouring ice on clicktivism. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ritusharma/stop-pouring-ice-on-click_b_5692555.html