Exploring Social Media Activism

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Media activism is a broad category of activism that utilizes media and communication technologies for social and political movements. Social media is a common way to promote media activism due to numerous opportunities for interaction and therefore disseminate information to rally supporters.  Examples of social media platforms include Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

According to the article, ‘Going viral: what social media activists need to know’, written by Ghobadi, S. (2018), social activism refers to a wide variety of activities which are beneficial to society. Goals of social activism may be to give voice, educate and agitate for change.

Can online social activism be meaningful and worthwhile?

Social media activism can absolutely be meaningful and worthwhile. However, in a few readings it was mentioned that information is best received and spread, in direct relation to how closely it reinforces the mainstream mindset, otherwise it may be quickly deleted or jammed.  In the article, ‘The problem with social media protests’, Malchiuk stated that, online movements can burn out faster than campaigns that spend months or even years forging in-person connections (2019). 

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Social media provides the perfect medium for activism actions, enabling groups to reach out to an entire world audience almost simultaneously.   Not only that, but social media can bypass mainstream media TV and Radio channels to reach people directly, using a variety of mediums such as videos or pictures.  Just last week I retweeted a post by the Carmichael Outreach centre in Regina, to promote a request for donations. This is a small way that I can contribute to a worthy cause which will help community members of Regina directly.  Social media activism may be carried out in very small ways, or in large scale ways such as the #metoo campaign.

Online activism enables quick levels of engagement with the general public, as well as a degree of anonymity which may motivate more people to become involved.  However, that very anonymity also carries a lesser weight of importance. For example, if thousands of anonymous ‘signatures’ are collected online to a petition, a politician may not take it as seriously in comparison to a signed petition from someone going door to door gathering signatures in person.  

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Another downside is that counter measures such as surveillance of activists, internet filtering, or imposed decreased internet speeds, may be employed by government officials or large corporations in response to social activism. “Doxxing” is a threat that may occur, which according to Curtis,  happens when negative information is spread online and publicly that can harm a person’s social or work reputation.

Inhibiting strategies are not limited to authoritarian organisations. Senior managers may also monitor email correspondence of staff, set up structures and hierarchies for access to organisational information, and use the information provided by secretive companies to check the status of their employees (for example, blacklisting workers perceived as trouble-makers). – Ghobadi, S., 2018

Is it possible to have productive conversations about social justice online? 

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Slacktivism is defined as when people ‘support a cause by performing simple measures but are not necessarily engaged or devoted to making a change.  Interchangeable terms such as ‘clicktivism’ or ‘arm-chair activism’ are also used. In an article by Levy, M. called, ‘RT If You: The Rise in Fake Activism’, small measures such as RT (re-tweeting) on Twitter, or, ‘Liking’ a post on Facebook, are seen as influential measures for social activism issues (2014).  However, in reality it is unlikely that forwarding a weirdly written statues statement to 10 people will directly influence awareness for breast cancer.

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In contrast, the ‘Movember’ movement in which men let facial hair grow every November to raise awareness for prostate cancer has greatly spread awareness.  The big difference is that to simply RT a post is not an action that inspires meaning as compared to seeing men suddenly grow mustaches.

A tweet can get a million retweets, but the chances remain slim that the tweet actually saved somebody’s life. Instead of retweeting meaningless posts, people should strive to actively make a difference in the lives of others. Make a donation, start a fundraiser, volunteer at a hospital or run a race for a cause you care about: the only criterion is to actually help a person instead of resorting to a convenient, fruitless retweet. – Levy, M. (2014)

What is our responsibility as educators to model active citizenship online?

As educators, we have a huge responsibility and fantastic opportunity to model online citizenship.  Social media offers a worldwide platform to allow students amazing opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise exist.  Opportunities such as connecting with like-minded individuals, sharing ideas, and learning from experts.

Hildebrandt, K. states in an article titled, ‘What Kind of (Digital Citizen)?’, that education in Saskatchewan should move from a ‘fear and avoidance based model’ to one that promotes actions to become a responsible digital citizen such as adoption of ‘responsible use’ policies using the cybersafety model.  The responsible use policy moves digital education from an emphasis on what students ‘shouldn’t do’, to what they ‘should do’.

According to ‘Tips for modeling responsible tech use and critical thinking’ by Lapus, M. (2018), a great way to educate students about digital citizenship skills is to role model responsible approaches to technology use through both school-based and social media based platforms.  In the nursing profession, confidentiality is an essential part of the nurses’ code of ethics, to breach it means a possible loss of job, heavy legal fines and even public shaming through news media coverage. 

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It is extremely important for nurse educators to ensure that nursing students are well aware of responsible use of online posting on social media. One year a student accidentally posted a positive message on Facebook about the unit we were completing clinical experiences on, and the post was viewed by the unit manager through Facebook channels by the very next day!  The post was quickly deleted, thankfully no patient confidentiality was ever breached, but it was an important real-life lesson for the nursing students, to show how quickly an online post can have professional consequences!  

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As Brooke mentioned,  social media ultimately offers one platform for improving social injustices and inciting social change.  Sometimes little things like hashtags can be just the thing to bring one’s attention to an important issue.  Even when a person chooses not to participate in a social activism issue directly, their eyes can still be opened to that issue by the very presence on social media platforms.

3 thoughts on “Exploring Social Media Activism

  1. Pingback: Political Activism and Social Media – Nataly Moussa

  2. I enjoyed reading this post – it was easy to follow and thoroughly explained. You made a lot of great points, I had not thought of – like social media bypassing the media. I also didn’t even think about Carmichael’s request as a type of social media activism, even though I saw many tweeting about their school contributions! Interesting comment about the nursing student as well! News travels fast. Great perspectives!


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