In 2018, all the information in the world is at our fingertips. The news is a quick tap away, or even the flash of a notification; in an instant, millions of people know the most recent event or decision. With social media, millions have the opportunity to have an audience. Their audience may be their Grandma, or it may be 500,000 people that they have never met. There many benefits of social media in activism. Information, narratives, and resources are spread effectively, and more people have the chance to be educated than ever. Communities who have been silenced are getting their voices out, and America has noticed. Studies show 69% of Americans believe social media is important in getting politicians to pay attention to issues, and 67% of Americans feel social media can create sustained movements. However, this new age brings new challenges to the efforts of those seeking to enact change.
Activism through social media gives privileged individuals the satisfaction of making a difference without them having to do anything. People put “intersectional feminist” in their Instagram bios to seem ‘woke’, but often don’t take the time to research the relevance of intersectionality in feminism. Similarly, many people will read the news, go to Twitter in their anger, retweet a tweet from their favorite celebrity, and move on. Of course, retweeting relevant information isn’t bad – it brings attention to issues – it’s just not enough. The convenience of social media has created a new brand of apathy in a desensitized audience, where people spend more energy creating a socially aware online image of themselves than actually enacting change or absorbing new perspectives. Being informed is nothing without action.
Another issue in the new age of activism is the public’s failure to discern the importance of issues. A new survey shows that 77% of Americans believe social media distracts from important issues, which is a valuable statistic. The mass of opinions that are shared at once combines with what is essentially a competition online to seem the most socially aware, leading many people to focus their energy into less impactful issues. A celebrity’s 10-year-old questionable tweets are equated with human rights violations, and the moral implications of events are lost. With everyone rushing to have the best and the most opinions on every news notification they see, they lose track of priorities and issues are forgotten.
Social media is transforming civic engagement. It has done a lot of good, making activism more accessible, allowing for the spread of opinions, issues, and perspectives that may have been silenced in the past, and spreading significant resources. However, social media has brought new challenges to activism. If you genuinely want to make a difference, you must consider social media as an important tool in addition to tangible work. Activism cannot be convenient. To cultivate change, activism must include awareness of everyday actions and how they impact the world. Activism must give a voice to those without the privilege of having an Instagram account. Activism must start a conversation with people who disagree. Activism must be loud, constant, and engrained in every aspect of life. Vote. Volunteer. Protest. Recognizing that something needs to be changed is the first step – don’t stop there! Log off for minute and work to make a difference in your community.