Modern Activism and It's Flaws
Last year alone hundreds of hashtags were created to promote an activist party or movement. Tags like #StandwithPP and #Kony2012 have been used over 100,000 times on Twitter. But looking at the world around you and not at your computer screen, has anything changed? No. This just begs one to question, does social media activism really work? Its sad to say but, that answer is also a no. Social media activism has caused misunderstandings, gives supporters the easy way out and has caused activism itself to make a general decline.
Considering this, modern activists need to take a different approach if they wish to be effective. Today, social media is a tool highly used by modern activists. Millions of people have passed the 500 friend milestone on Facebook, which gives activists a large and potentially powerful network right at the tip of their fingers. Kirk Kristofferson, leader of the most recent activism studies, knows just how much activism has altered. Kirk says “Drawing back from the 60s and sit ins, that was real action.
That was people putting forth a strong effort.” Author Malcolm Gladwell also agrees and states that “People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented. They did it before the internet came along.” Gladwell also questions the efficiency of social media to initiate and organize physical protests outside of the computer world. He says that it’s easier for people to participate at home, as it is a lazy alternative to actually leaving the house to take action.Over time, activism itself has changed a lot and with an ever growing technological society, activists feel a need to change with the the times, even if it’s not the best method.
There is no question that social media is extremely popular. But as it is extensive, it is equally as ineffective. Although modern activists do receive support on social media, how meaningful is this support? Do people’s actions online affect your movement? Does a like on Facebook suddenly cause change in the world around you? No. On social media, people often give ‘token’ support by wearing pins, liking a status or following an activist’s page. This because they either can’t or don’t feel like engaging in ‘meaningful’ support by donating, physically protesting, boycotting or petitioning. ‘Slacktivism’ is the term given to this dilemma.
The term is often used by student activists in order to explain the weak and lazy activist movements that aren’t going anywhere because they only receive ‘token’ support. Studies conducted at St. Louis University have proved that when individuals support an activists cause with some small yet meaningful support , it’s more likely that they will support the cause with a bigger contribution in the future. This proves that the success of a page on Facebook or the popularity of a hashtag on Twitter doesn’t not correlate with the progress of the actual movement and the support the cause receives. Through social media, it’s easy to contact a vast variety of people, all around the globe.
But often times, this can cause miscommunications between different races, cultures, ethnicities, genders, etc… Posts on twitter are limited to 140 characters so there’s not a lot of room for justification or explanation. This limit caused talk show host Stephan Colbert from The Colbert Report much trouble when he made the mistake of publishing a punch line from his show without the jokes setup. He posted “I am willing to show #Asian community the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals.
” He wrote this tweet in reference to a fake video that accused him of racism towards Asians. At the sight of the tweet, writer and activist Suey Park created the tag #CancelColbert to try and shut down his show and spark conversation about Asians experiences with racism in America. Many Asian Americans realized Park’s mistake and recognized her misuse of hashtag activism so nothing really came out of the movement besides a huge misunderstanding that was blown out of proportion. Although it’s not the first time social media activism has been misused it certainly is the most notable as it received global recognition. In Papua New Guinea, global recognition is not an activist’s goal. Deni ToKunai also known as ‘Tavurvur’ hosts a popular blog and Facebook page in which he discusses issues like the mismanagement of public funds, abduction, rape, grace periods on voting, healthcare and many other dilemmas going on within the country.
But even with a page that has thousands of followers, nothing has changed politically. Why? The majority of the region’s leaders don’t utilize social media. Those in power are not tuned into digital disputes and although the page is very informative and persuasive, it’s success is unimportant if those who the blog is aimed at don’t read a single word. Many argue that social media activism is very useful in a way that it raises awareness and expands an activists network. But is that truly important? Yes, social media can help people become educated on things that are meaningful to them. It makes people feel something.
T.K Smith is on the executive board of Saint Louis University’s Political Round Table. He says “because we can like something, because we can read an article online, it kind of changes how you feel, like you are doing something.” Smith argues that people like to feel like they are making a difference. “You kind of feel being more in the know, that you are doing more than if you hadn’t ‘liked’ it.
“But in all honesty, the way a wanna-be supporter feels does not affect the movement or work towards an outcome. Christina LaFon, an activist student at Saint Louis University says that awareness is a “lazy objective” and that as an activist, “awareness is a given, action is what you want to promote.” LaFon does have a Facebook group in which she shares articles about feminism with like minded people. But, she says “Eventually, I’d really like for us to be able to provide resources for people to start their own movements.” Social media has caused activism to change and not for the better.
Our generation needs to up the ante if we wish to achieve anything and modern activists need to take a different approach if they wish to be effective. Hashtag activism is not working and ‘Slacktivism’ is a real dilemma. With Facebook reaching over 500 million users in October of 2013, we can do so much more. So in my own desperate attempt to cause change I say, We. Can. Do it.