The pandemic has impacted all levels of society and no one has been left untouched. Many events, work and social activities have moved online. This change was easier for some than others and it has highlighted different social issues such as digital poverty and other divides among communities.
Social activism has had their fair share of struggles during this time too. When we were looking into how Covid-19 impacted non-profits worldwide and activists in general, we found both positive and negative impacts and have put a guide together of how you can navigate activism on social media successfully.
Online activism – a crash course
Social media has been developing as a platform for activism for years, it helped represent—and, in some cases, organize—the Arab Spring 2.0, France’s “Yellow Vest” movement, Puerto Rico’s RickyLeaks, the 2019 Iranian protests, the Hong Kong protests, and what we might call the B.L.M. uprising of 2020.
Use of social media influencers, key hashtags and popular platforms mean that causes are reaching millions of people. Pew Research Center found that the #MeToo hashtag was used more than 19 million times on Twitter since the initial tweet asking for people who have been sexually harassed or assaulted to write ‘me too’. That’s more than 55,000 uses of the hashtag per day.
Whilst some campaigns ‘go viral’, the reality is, most don’t. Does that make them any less effective or successful? We don’t think so! But before we share our top tips, let’s check over the pros/opportunities and cons/risks of online activism.
What are some positive impacts on activism?
- More time equals more engagement
For many, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced them to slow down and with restrictions in place, created ample free time. This has provided an opportunity for more people to educate themselves on social causes and seek out new perspectives or ideas. For those whose lives have been less busy during the pandemic, there is more time to engage and reflect on stories and campaigns that they might previously have just scrolled past.
- Increase in political awareness
Ultimately more time plus hearing more from politicians throughout the pandemic has increased people’s awareness of the influence of politics on their lives. A Gallup poll recently reported that 79% of young people felt that the coronavirus pandemic has made them realise how much political leader’s decisions impact them. We can hope that this increase in political awareness could lead to more young people recognising the importance of their voices and the roles that they can take as activists!
With social media activism at a record high and so many now becoming involved what are the opportunities and what are the risks?
Social Media Activism: Opportunities
- Easy to be active online
Ease of spreading information and raising awareness online. The so-called ‘Clicktivism’ allows individuals to easily indicate their concerns and spread it around their contacts. This promotes the cause and encourages others to pass information around.
- Every voice counts
We all have our very own community online. Friends, family and people we have never met before are at our fingertips. Everything we share, choose to retweet and engage with has the potential to educate and empower others within our reach to do the same. No voice is too small, no opportunity insignificant!
- Reach and impact
Online campaigns are having a global reach and we are seeing real change. Since George Floyd’s death, cities have cut billions of dollars from police budgets; school districts have severed ties with police; multiple police-reform-and-accountability bills have been introduced in Congress; and cities like Minneapolis have vowed to defund policing. This is hugely encouraging and can work similarly at a smaller scale, within your local community.
Social Media Activism: Risks
- Physical risks
Some activists have faced considerable risks in the UK and overseas as a result of their activism. For example, some have been labelled terrorists (e.g. in the Philippines but also in the UK), which can lead to a prevention of others from taking a stand for their causes.
Posts that capitalize on the attention-grabbing nature of Instagram, for example a black blank square under the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag. They distract from resources and efforts that are actually productive. When the “Blackout Tuesday” trend took place in early June, the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag was flooded with blank black squares, and users who normally found antiracist resources through this hashtag were unable to for a very long time.
- Echo chambers
There is some concern that online activism can just amount to preaching to the choir, with algorithms ensuring that information shows up on the feeds of those who already care or are interested in the cause. It can be challenging for online activists to break free from their echo chamber in order to confront those who do not already share the same/similar views. This means that there is very little critical thinking and an increased tendency to demonise the opposite views increasing tribalism.
- Not available to all
Bias towards countries with free access to the internet, the social media revolution and the activism that has flourished on the back of it cannot create the same in pact in countries where the internet is heavily regulated. Authoritarian regimes have been known to shut down activism all together, allow for activism but then monitor it and gather surveillance on people or flood social media with misinformation.
None of these points create exhaustive lists, but they make a start. If you have any pros or cons of social activism in mind, do find us on social media and share them with us!
Old-fashioned activism is not dead
Despite the meteoric rise of social media activism, there are still good old fashioned methods of activism that mustn’t be forgotten and are still key to change:
- Run for a position of responsibility (e.g. legislator, local government)
- Write to companies to try to change policies (e.g. supermarkets to reduce plastic packaging, donate food to local causes etc)
- Write to MPs and those in power to affect change (e.g. to close the digital wealth gap preventing pupils from learning at home)
- Identify local charities, not-for-profits and join them!
7 Top tips for activism online
- Research your causes and get creative in sharing accurate information you think important (and tell people why you’re sharing it!).
- Ask yourself what do I want to achieve? Does your post add to that?
- Know key post sharing times, most people are online late afternoon!
- Add images or shoot a short video to engage more people.
- Re-share posts from trustworthy sources which provide useful, productive information on the cause.
- Get out of your echo chambers and add people you don’t agree with to your ‘following’ list!
- Remember to start conversations, not fires! Post with kindness, more people are likely to listen