Social media can be a hostile and toxic environment, yet in recent years we have witnessed how it can be mobilised for good. Activism through social media has undeniably flourished, encapsulated by a poignant hashtag that can bring together an important movement. There are millions of posts across multiple social media platforms that are captioned under #metoo and #blacklivesmatter. Many people who did not have much access to information on these matters through mainstream media and education now do and can get involved with important causes.
Yet, simultaneously, many have therefore never participated in an activist movement and can be uneducated on how to appropriately and most effectively. Social media activism is only as good as we make it, so how do we make sure it is good?
Social media thrives on a culture of quick clicks and a fast-paced influx of posts, so considering what information we share on our platforms is inherent to the success of social media activism. Sharing posts that can bring about real change beyond our screens, such as ones that aim to educate and those linking to petitions are the way forward.
We need to realise our responsibility to research before a quick share. Many of us rely on factual information to inform our decisions, yet we need to understand that factual is not synonymous with statistical. The Black Lives Matter movement has shown the importance of statistics being contextualised. Opponents have tried to diminish the movement by sharing data on Statista that shows, in the USA, more white people than black were killed by police in 2019, failing to contextualise it within the ethnic makeup of the country. Taking this into account, the data showed that black Americans were nearly three times more likely to die from police than white Americans.
Furthermore, sharing graphic and disturbing content mobilises action through shock and disgust, but we need to realise that this content can be distressing for the community who are facing it. BBC journalist Sadrine Lungumbu has spoken out about how she, as a black woman, did not want to watch the video of George Floyd being killed, despite it being ‘near impossible to escape it’. She stated that she found it, ‘mentally and physically draining to watch yet another unarmed black man dying under arrest at the hands of another white police officer.’
To become more progressive on an issue, we need to prioritise the voices that should be at the centre of the debate.
Good social media activism is sharing and engaging with the posts of the community who the issue predominately effects, helping them create traction. Whilst sharing your own thoughts on the issue is important, if you are not a member of the community affected and are only posting your own thoughts on the issue, there is a risk you could overshadow others.
Most importantly, good social media activism does not stop at social media. It facilitates other forms of activism. Instagram stories disappear after 24 hours. Millennial Black, an Instagram account run by activist Sophie Williams, have a thread on how to keep up the anti-racist momentum after the news cycle. Implementing this information in reality, such as getting involved in local organisations and diversifying your bookshelf, can help us to make the change needed in the world beyond our screens.
The age of social media is inherently one of protest and the world of Twitter and Instagram lends itself well to promoting social justice causes. After all, the main way the horror of police brutality is coming to light now is because videos and pictures are being shared on social media, that force people to confront the institutional violence that exists in the police. However, activism must be done well to make a genuine change in the world, because as good as posting black tiles on Instagram make us feel more has to be done to combat injustice
To make real change through social media, there must be a way of sending a message to governments and institutions such as petitions. The sharing of petitions on social media has led to increased engagement with this political tool and has had real-world consequences. The petitions calling for justice for victims of police violence have been widely shared and have a large part to play in the arrest of the officers that murdered George Floyd. This shows the effect that the sharing of these petitions can have and the importance of finding real ways to enact change through social media. There has also been a surge in support for charities and organisations seeking to tackle racial injustice like Black lives Matter and Bail funds. This increase in donation owes much to the pressure on social media to help in any way possible.
One of the most effective ways social media activism functions is through the organisation.
The protests that have been happening in cities across the world were largely promoted through social media, sharing when and where the protests were going to be, allowing a mass mobilisation of people which aids in its success. Effective online activism also encourages people to educate themselves on matters of injustice and listen to the voices of Black people regarding their oppression. For example, the promotion of books and resources where people can gain a better understanding of structural racism and inequality, which furthers the movement in a more lasting way.
In short, the best social media activism is that which goes beyond social media, it doesn’t let movements become meaningless trends that eventually fizzle out without reaching their goal. Instead, it tries to enact real change and create an atmosphere where people in power have to listen to the voices of the protesters.
Last modified: 18th August 2020