Social Media Activism Part 1: The Tweet Heard ‘Round the World.
The intention of social media was to be a string of communicative tools that help connect people across the globe. With about 3.02 billion people using social media worldwide, it’s safe to say that it has succeeded in its goal. However, since the inception of social media, platforms have changed from a way to socialize to a place that can inspire change and activism. This type of online activism has fueled international protests and has forever altered the way movements are started and organized.
A Hashtag a Day Keeps the Police at Bay
By definition a hashtag is a type of metadata tag that is used on social networking sites (mostly Twitter) in order to apply user-generated tagging. This was created so that topics that are tagged using the ‘#” sign can be located by anyone around the world and contributed to online. In the past hashtagging has been used like forums to discuss episodes of television shows as they air, to highlight social events and to project online jokes or ‘memes.‘ However in recent years the idea of what a hashtag is used for, changed.
In the summer of 2014, on separate occasions, two unarmed African American men were killed by police officers. Eric Garner (July) was held down and strangled to death by five New York City cops, and Michael Brown (August) was shot multiple times in Ferguson Missouri, by police officer Darren Wilson. These two instances went viral online and caused National uproar in the United States. People began to realize that there was a pattern of police brutality in the United States against African Americans. This realization motivated groups to try and end this systematic oppression. The hashtag “#BlackLivesMatter” began to trend on twitter, and since its birth a domino effect of events has occurred that has not only changed the way that U.S. citizens view police officers, but also the way that the world views social media.
Although the campaign “#BlackLivesMatter” was not the first movement created online (“Occupy Wall Street”) it was definitely the most influential. After the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown there were several protests that took place all over the United States. In the Ferguson Unrest, after the grand jury’s decision to not indict police officer Darren Wilson, protestors began to get violent as a projection of their rage towards the injustice of the decision. Not only did social media organize the protest, but it also kept the story straight for the rest of the world. There were several different news outlets that tried to create their own narrative of the riots. Thankfully because of Twitter people were able to upload videos of the event, and individuals involved were able to give their own testimonials.
Following the riots, in December five players on the Los Angeles Rams decided to peacefully protest in a game versus the Oakland Raiders, by coming out into the stadium with their hands up. This was meant to signify “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” a way to pay homage to the late Michael Brown. Once these football players got involved there were plenty of celebrities (Kim Kardashian West, The Weekend, etc.) who joined in, as well other countries like Ireland and South Africa. All around the world people were protesting against police brutality. Due to its success“#BlackLivesMatter has helped pave the way for other movements to start and flourish online (#MeToo,#MarchForOurLives,etc.). However, just because there are social media activists that thrive, does not mean that there are not others who’s movements fizzle out and die due to lack of motivation.
Bring Back Our Girls…or Not
The“#BringBackOurGirls”campaign that sparked in 2014 is a perfect example of how a noble cause can completely backfire. In April of 2014, 276 female students were kidnapped from the Government Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State, Nigeria by Boko Haram. After the news of the abduction spread worldwide people began to become active on social media in hopes to bring awareness to the tragedy. It was not long until the hashtag “#BringBackOurGirls” had started trending. Soon after, celebrities got involved with tweeting about the kidnapping and even a few held up signs during the Cannes film festival; However, “#BringBackOurGirls died out as swiftly as it went viral; and the majority of the people who had spent so much time tweeting did nothing to help the actual cause. It was not activism, it was slacktivism.
Slacktivism is a term that describes when people online are so passionate about a political or social issue, and yet do nothing outside of the internet to actually help it. People become lazy and allow themselves to feel good because they have tweeted about a movement meanwhile, tweeting only takes about thirty seconds to do. Millennials tend to view themselves very highly for online protests, but what good does the online work do if offline people are stagnant? This is not to say that everyone who participated online in #BringBackOurGirls was unmotivated, but Twitter users did not save those girls. In fact only the Nigerian and Swiss Government along with the Red Cross succeeded in bringing a few of them back. The truly sad thing is because of the hashtag the girls became too famous. The few who were saved from their kidnappers can never actually go home to their families because the Nigerian government finds it too dangerous for them to leave their protection.
Whatever your view on social media activism may be, there is no denying that it has definitely impacted society in a large way. People around the world would not be as aware of events going on if it was not for social networking sites. For better or for worse social media gives each movement a voice that it would not have if the web did not exist.
Do you find social media activism harmful or helpful? Let us know what you think.
Madeline Tersigni is a native New Yorker studying in Italy at the American University of Rome. She is a Communications major, with a concentration in Journalism and a minor in International Business. Madeline is interning at AlfaBeta for the summer, and when she is not working you can find her reading or traveling around Italy.