YOUTH & STUDENT ACTIVISM

 

Social Media Kick-starts Social Activism
Dania Souid

The world is in a revolution, from anti-government protests in Egypt and Syria to riots in England and the debt crisis in Greece. And yet, the questions remain: Who is leading these revolutions? How were such diverse people united across the world for social change?

It is not unusual for students to spend their time clicking away in front of a blinking computer screen. From schoolwork to entertainment, an entire world is now available online. However, this world of social media sites has more to offer than telling your followers about your lunch or checking your friends’ photos. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have opened the door for students to engage in social activism.

The term Twitter Revolution is being applied to different uprisings around the world. It was first coined during the Iranian Revolution of 2009-2010 because activists were using Twitter to organize demonstrations, meetings and encourage voting. But that’s not all. Twitter gave people the ability to tell the rest of the world what was happening in real time. This instantaneous exchange of information is the essence of social media activism.

It is the combination of new media and traditional methods that has led the world into a revolution

After all, social media is about creating connections and bridging social gaps. Organizing a diverse group around a common issue has always been a key component of activism. Social media sites help people create this network and in turn engage in activism. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube encourage social activism because they educate and inform their users on what is happening beyond their own backyard. For example, during the protests and demonstrations in Syria, news stations are increasingly dependent on amateur videos uploaded to YouTube for their broadcasts. Activists in countries that don’t allow foreign journalists rely on social media to fill the missing role.

Granted the Rally to Restore Sanity was no March on Washington, but social media sites are still an essential place to kick-start a movement. They inform the public instantaneously of global events and give people the opportunity to immediately become active, whether by joining a group or making a donation. After the earthquake in Haiti, in January 2010, more than $5 million was raised for the American Red Cross within 24 hours via text message donations. The massive donations wouldn’t be possible without the 2.3 million tweets about Haiti or the 170,000 members joining the Earthquake Haiti Facebook group. People using social media sites got involved and active right away.

Social media is a platform to get educated and organized before becoming socially active. However, social media activism through Twitter and Facebook encourage more online activism instead of the in-person and in-the-public-eye activism necessary for change. These sites discourage physical social activism and encourage a genre of armchair activism. Leave a message here or tweet a person there and a student starts thinking, “That’s enough for the day,” all without having to get out into real world. Social media is appealing because of its convenience. Even though social media sites are an excellent way to reach a diverse audience quickly, these connections aren’t particularly strong. Weak connections between people in turn weaken social activism. The strong bonds created by face-to-face activism are still necessary.

Find SPC on your favorite social media site.

The Peace Council is one of many long-time activist groups striving to blend traditional tactics with innovative new social media tools. Watch video from events you’ve missed on our YouTube channel, “like” us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter. You’ll find links for all of SPC’s social media pages at our website, peacecouncil.net.

The seemingly frivolous nature of armchair activism is a reflection of how the young generation relies on computers for communication and subsequently activism. Students can join a Facebook group to end the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan or watch YouTube videos about violence in Israel and Palestine, but that is only the first step. Social media provides a starting point for social activism, a way to get educated, organized and prepared. But liking something on Facebook or tweeting links to a news story is not a replacement for phoning, outreach, demonstrating and face-to-face communication.

There is a fine line between social media helping and hurting social activism. There is still more to learn about the power and influence these outlets have on the world. After all, these media sites are still in their infancy. However, it is clear that by itself social media is not enough to agitate and organize—it is the combination of new media and traditional methods that have led the world into a revolution.


Dania is a Syracuse area native and SU communications major interning with SPC for the summer.