Activism: the practice of using intense campaigning to reach a social or political goal.
Whether you think of the abolitionist movement or the suffragettes, it’s clear activism has been around a long time. One major change in recent decades, however, has been the introduction of social media and other online tools – with huge power to help activists disseminate messages about their work.
Recent and current campaigns such as #Together4Yes, #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter placed social media at their core.
Here, we have summarised three key ways in which social media has impacted on activism:
Live updates to large numbers:
Social media allows groups reach large audiences rapidly. It also allows activists update the masses in real time. You can use social media to rally supporters and get large turnouts at events that will gain massive media coverage for your cause. This is exactly what happened with the Women’s March in January 2017, which was staged as a protest against the outcome of the 2016 US Presidential election.
A heightened sense of urgency and a worldwide view:
Social media can break down geographical boundaries and show what’s going on behind closed doors – whether in your own country or much farther afield. Videos and pictures can increase awareness of your cause and shed light – in a very impactful way – on issues that might not be covered by traditional media. Take Black Lives Matter, for example: social media has played a central role in this campaign, which focuses on the disproportionate victimisation of black people in the USA.
The power of a personal story:
When using social media to gain exposure for your cause in the hope that it will ‘go viral’, you should always look at where it all began. For maximum impact, the story at the core of your campaign should be personal and relatable. The #MeToo movement, an international campaign against sexual assault and harassment, arose from allegations against entertainment mogul Harvey Weinstein. In October 2017, the actor Alyssa Milano started the #MeToo hashtag on Twitter to show just how many people have been affected by sexual harassment. Within a month, it had garnered 1.7 million tweets across 85 countries – and it’s still going strong nine months later.
Despite these positive developments, there can, of course, be negative associations between social media and activism. Indeed, social media has given rise to the concept of ‘armchair activists’ and, more pejoratively, ‘keyboard warriors’ – those who vent their anger and call for change online, without ever doing anything practical to make change happen.
All in all, however, social media has provided a major boost for activists. Just think of the domestic and global campaigns on your radar that you would never have known about without social media.