There has been much discussion of late regarding social media and the role that it has in facilitating change. Recently I attended the leadership conference S4S in which the key topic throughout the 2 day event was the concept of change. After speaking to a number of inspiring individuals, as most of us were ‘technology savvy’ young adults we were asked to determine the key principles in why we believed social media has changed the role of activism.
A key factor in the success of social media and the role it has in generating social activism is that it utilises group structures and collective action. A prime example of this collective action is the striking of Egyptian workers on the 6th April 2008. Israa Abdel Fattah, a young Egyptian girl (also know as ‘Facebook Girl’) called for all Egyptians to boycott work as a sign of solidarity against the oppression and corruption in her country. By using social media and word of mouth she had created the largest strike in recent history creating an eerie emptiness of the normally teeming streets of Cairo. Akin believes that the success of social media and its role in creating social activism stems from the “fluidity of leadership” (2012, p98). Individuals are able to connect with one another to contribute, propose, provide and create greater visibility as a collective pre, during and post social activism movements (Akin 2012, p98). This can be attributed to the ability of social media to greater organise activists and decrease the need of hierarchical structures. Which, in-turn recognises that social activism on social media creates a more dynamic and participatory nature of web activism.
Despite social media’s ability to effectively organise social activists, a lack of formal leadership and control within a social movement leads to a social ignorance from both activists and users of social media. Tatarchevskiy, argues that although the crowded public sphere (social media) allows activists an avenue to “whereby messages cost little or nothing, establishing their legitimacy becomes an ever important task” (2010, p308). Social media as mentioned previously in my argument is a cheap and ubiquitous form of communication. Thusly Tatarchevskiy believes that in the context of messages delivered by social activists through social media, “It is not the message that manifests authenticity, but the medium through which it was sent” (2010, p308).
If I log on to my social media portals on a hourly basis I am constantly viewing content from social activists. It is these ease in which activists can organise and mobilise their efforts that enforces the argument that social media has reinvented the way in which we approach social activism. From saving the whales to the destructive nature of governments and their oppressive regimes, social media has now changed the way in which we approach social activism for the greater good.
Lasting impact aside, social media greatest attributes in the efforts of social activism still is and always will be the ability to communicate, increase transparency and its organisational qualities in mobilising for collective action. Whilst most still do not participate, they are changed by the fact that they can (Charles, 2010). Whether it be through simply changing a profile picture to support marriage equality or re-posting a link in support of any form of social activism, users of social media are reinventing the forms of activism we have witnessed throughout the course of time. User empowerment and a greater understanding of social media has led to the rebirth of social activism and a brighter future for generations to come.
Akin, A, Encina, C, Restivo, M, Schwartz, M & Tyagi, J 2012, ‘Old Wine in a New Cask? Protest Cycles in the Age of the New Social Media’, The Whitehead Journal of Diplomacy of International Relations, vol 13, no 1, pp 89-103.
Charles 2010, The People formally known as the audience = The Community, accessed October 10 2013, http://yousaiditblog.wordpress.com/2010/02/23/the-people-formerly-known-as-the-audience-the-community/.
Tatarchevskiy T, ‘The popular culture of internet activism’, New Media & Society, Vol 13, No 2, pp 297-313.
2nd Year Media & Communication & Commerce Student @UOW
Majoring in Digital Communication & Marketing