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Let's Be Honest, Episode 46: Digital Activism

Let’s be honest is a Food Circle project to open up the conversation about the challenges when being or becoming a member of the SC (Sustainability Club). This series will shine a light on the different approaches to making life more sustainable and the step-backs and difficulties that arise. Being more kind and understanding, instead of critical, will hopefully help to encourage us to try instead of giving up when facing a step-back or failure. This is made possible thanks to Sapient, the mother company of Food Circle, which every year offers internships to students from all around the world, creating a uniquely multicultural environment!

Let’s celebrate the achievements and give room for honesty and struggles!

Digital Activism, the definition

Digital activism, synonym to cyberactivism, is the use of technology and online social platforms for mass mobilization. Through digital media, email, podcasts, chatrooms, blogs and lately social media, activists are able to distribute information, raise awareness and take action. The internet works as a space for people to unify, exchange opinions and even start a whole movement. [1]

Digital Activism

Digital activism met it's rapid growth with the introduction and evolution of the social media platforms. Facebook and Twitter, as principle platforms of communication for current affairs and political commentary, helped buttress cyberactivism to the point where entire campaigns can now be run online and have a wide audience reach.

The most common tools of practising digital activism are online petitions, social networks, blogs & micro-blogging (f.e. Twitter), mobile phones (citizen journalism) and crowdsourcing platforms.

One of the biggest benefits of using digital tools for positive change is the ability to connect with a large community and, if applicable, globalise a campaign’s goals. The interconnected nature of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter lend themselves easily to information sharing, meaning an activist can post a slogan, picture or details about an issue, share it with friends, plug into like-minded online communities and distribute info through their networks in a much less time and energy-consuming way than more traditional methods of going door-to-door or standing on street corners and asking passers-by to sign petitions.

A very beneficial way to use online activism is complementary to the offline. Plenty of successful social movements have used digital platforms to enhance the support and audience they wanted to reach and at the same time, combined the online campaign with 'leg work' on the streets. Not just talking the talk but also, walking the walk. A very fitting example is the one with the climate strike movement in 2019, that combined both online and offline activism. Rallying behind Greta Thunberg and Fridays for Future, millions of citizens all over the world have been mobilised to address the global climate crisis and support environmental activism.

In the same lane, digital activism gives a huge opportunity for multiple voices to be heard. Practically, everyone that has access to internet has the ability to make their case and offer a clear and loud message. A great start for people who are being silenced or have no vehicle for their message. When ordinary people are encouraged to share their stories and their perspectives, a better picture of what is going on is projected and pressure can be put into governments to take action about issues that are not normally mentioned within conventional media. [2]

Social Media Activism

It is debated not a few times, if social media platforms are suitable for activist actions and if it is an effective form for political and social engagement. With the proven power that social media hold on us, I think the answer is already given.

Social media is a great equalizer. They offer space for everyone's voice to be heard, exchange ideas and even start a public debate between citizens and people with powerful positions.

Two more words that can clearly describe this useful tool is accessibility and inclusivity. For everyone that has a device connected to the internet and has an account in one social medium, it is easy to participate in the engagement and be included in the conversation. Furthermore, social media cover people that are disabled, work long hours or are not able to participate physically.

A great example of how social media activism has worked drastically in recent history, is with the Black Lives Movement and the murder of George Floyd by four police officers. Darnella Frazier’s video of George Floyd’s murder led to a major resurgence of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, with activists primarily using social media to share important information, educational resources, and personal accounts of racism. It was also used as a tool to organise and spread the word about large-scale, in-person protests across the world.

According to a social media report by Mediakix (marketing company) and Offbeat (media company) conducted, it revealed that:

  • the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was used 48M times between 26th of May and 7th of June 2020

  • Tiktok repored 12B views for the above mentioned hashtag

  • Twitter set the record for most active online users in June 2020 [3]

Social Media Activism, the challenges

As we have mentioned before, everything in life comes with a price. Despite how useful and powerful social platforms are, the challenges their users face exist. Slacktivism is a very common one. Spreading awareness on social media without offering practical ways for others to combat the issue, shows more indifference rather than real activism. According to the Pew Research Center, 50% of Americans consider themselves as politically active, however only the 19% actually researches information on protests or alternative solutions to contribute to change.

Of course, there is another side to ignorance. Many believe that reposting activists content makes them immediately part of the change but in reality, many just want to follow the trends. Users feel obligated to post about a particular issue, not because they genuinely wish to make a change, but to mimic everyone else.

A prime example of this occurred after the death of George Floyd, in which users posted completely black pictures with the caption "#blackouttuesday." Advocating for the fact that Black Lives Matter became a trend, the more users who posted a black picture, the more who were compelled to participate.

Last but not least, misinformation and propaganda are serious challenges that activists and citizens tend to face in this fast-pacing environment. Social media spread information in a flash of an eye, it is easy for the news to not be properly verified and cause controversial opinions. Moreover, the news nowadays require eye-catching titles and click-baits, and the cost is to sacrifice trustworthiness and neutrality. [4]

Citizen Journalism

The concept of citizen journalism is based on citizens who play a dynamic role in the process of news collecting, reporting, editing, and distributing it to other public. It is different from professional journalism and traditional reporting. This kind of journalism needs no graduation from a professional course. The requirements are simple. The citizen has to have a camera or good writing skills and more importantly a social media account.

It is not rare that sometimes local media don't cover every incident or each aspect of it subjectively. As a result, whole movements have arise. When an intriguing and controversial incident occurs, citizen journalists produce first-hand evidence with their phones as live resources. Such a power, gives space for marginalized groups to be heard, enhance the livelihood of the community and of course, there is an easy access to a broad set of audience.

Today's situation, shows that citizen journalists are sometimes taken more seriously than the mainstream media. Due to their live transmissions or proper fact-checking news, the citizens antagonize with the professionals who gradually lose their credibility and trustworthyness. [5]

Twitter & Facebook

Two of the most common digital platforms that promote online activism are Twitter and Facebook. These two have provided a vital base for a new wave of social,political and environmental activism, that can lead to big changes and massive mobilisation.

Twitter's hashtag activism has become one of the basic ways for civic engagement and social movements. The use of the hashtag linked with a word or phrase that consists a social issue the period of the discussion, provides users with the opportunity to share information and opinions under the same topic, and a discussion can start with the potential of creating a change. Through the use of #, the groups are able to communicate, mobilise, advocate for issues and connect with other individuals globally.

The same operations apply to Facebook. The social network is playing a crucial role when organizing a march or a protest that has to reach a numerous amount of people. It is the best way to connect with big groups and inform them. A recent study from the ACLU found that police departments use social media to monitor protests, and although Twitter and Facebook cut off access to one tool, it does raise privacy concerns. [6]

Author: Alexandra Bakalianou


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