The many sides of social media activism

Social media is either lauded as the most remarkable thing wielded by our generation or brutally condemned as a brain-rotting time suck. Regardless of your personal opinions on the matter, it is obvious to anyone with an internet connection that social media has become increasingly affiliated with politics in recent years, especially recently, with the 2020 presidential elections right around the corner. Being an exceptionally accessible place to speak your mind, naturally there has been an upturn in people online sharing their political ideologies and inflating the general discourse.

This has changed the way we view activism as a concept and brought it primarily into the virtual world, which is where most members of Drops of Ink involve themselves politically. The primary reason for this is that social media has made activism and politics more spontaneous and accessible, with ideas diffusing from person to person. This makes it much easier to spread and consume information, however credible or dubious that information may be. 

This all begs the question of whether or not political activism online is more or less efficient than its real-life counterpart. To ask the question plainly, is social media activism effective?

When asked, the Drops of Ink staff shared mostly the same sentiment, acknowledging both the benefits and drawbacks to online activism. It differs from platform to platform, as on Twitter responding to posts is much more public than it is on Instagram stories (where we see a majority of political content posted). This makes participation in debate something more accessible to others, resulting in a much faster and easier route to hive-mind mentalities and confirmation bias. In fact, algorithms on some sites actually facilitate this confirmation bias, as they recommend content to users similar to that of which they already follow. 

Another danger of social media activism is the spread of incorrect or misleading information. Anyone can post anything, which means that oftentimes personal opinions are framed as and taken at face value as factual, which is obviously not good for those seeking out the real facts. Instagram specifically contributes greatly to this issue, as you can only post links in your bio. This makes it difficult to post articles past their headlines, which can definitely be misleading and generally uninformative, as a lot of people don’t make the effort to actually go read the article after seeing the headline. This can lead to headlines being taken out of the context of the article as a whole.

While social media activism does definitely have its downfalls, it also has considerable positives as well. Information spreading quickly means that it is easier than ever to find people with the same values and same qualities as you, as well as find and create communities, support systems and movements. However, a criticism posed of social media is that movements usually don’t move past just spreading awareness — which while certainly important — is not enough to bring about notable change. 

A prime example of this is the March for Our Lives movement, sparked in response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. The movement culminated in a worldwide rally against gun violence on March 24, 2018. Involvement on social media was crucial to the movement’s momentum, being the main way that student activists organized protest efforts such as walkouts at high schools nationwide, including at LHS.

Although there was a marked increase in gun safety legislation passed in 2018 following the Stoneman Douglas shooting and the peak of the March for Our Lives movement, there is no denying that gun violence, especially for schools, is something that still occurs frequently today. It is unfair to expect a single movement to eradicate school shootings completely, but one could argue that the March for Our Lives movement hasn’t done a ton past raise awareness for the issue. 

However, that doesn’t mean that all movements started on social media are bound to hit their ceiling after raising awareness for a given issue. For example, there’s the #MeToo movement, which according to the movement’s official website, “was founded in 2006 to help survivors of sexual violence, particularly Black women and girls, and other young women from low wealth communities, find pathways to healing.” 

Odds are, if you’re aware of the #MeToo movement, you’re aware of it because of the Twitter hashtag that went viral in October 2017 after sexual-abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein were exposed in a New York Times article. Following the allegations going public, women worldwide began to utilize the hashtag in solidarity to speak out about their experiences with sexual harassment and abuse. On Feb. 24, Weinstien was ultimately found guilty of rape and a felony sex crime, which is a huge victory for the movement as a whole.

The #MeToo movement is a prime example of how social media activism can bring people together, pioneer a movement and make real-life change. Following the movement’s inception and eventual virality, there was a significant increase in people in positions of power like CEOs, candidates and other public figures being fired and stripped of their influence. 

Overall, there are certainly plenty of dangers that come with political involvement on social media, but the possibility of making a substantial change, or even just making someone else feel like they’re not alone, should be ample motivation to keep using the platforms in a positive way.