Social Media and Social Activism (COM0011 – Blog Post #4)

Throughout this course, we’ve read about various ways that social media has revolutionized the things we do every single day. Web 2.0 has empowered consumers like never before. Government 2.0 has empowered voters like never before. That got me thinking about how social media has impacted those who make social change.

Call it Activism 2.0.

1406329673711It wasn’t so long ago that anyone who wanted to get involved in a social issue or raise money for an issue had to find a way to seek out like-minded people. Maybe a community bulletin board or word-of-mouth. Then they had to organize everything from meetings to public information campaigns to fundraising drives. That could cost a lot of money and time. Even then, they were often limited to working with the people in their own community, or their own city.

Now many of those hurdles have been removed—allowing socially active people to spend more time on their cause. Want to find like-minded individuals interested in building a movement? They’re all over Twitter. They’ve got their own blogs and online networks. Social media is inherently about connecting individuals and enabling them to interact. And they don’t have to close to you, either. It’s as easy to collaborate with someone from Mumbai as it is someone from Montreal. Not only does that means access to a larger number of activists, it means access to a larger number of skill sets and expertise.

This is what the Obama campaign did so well in 2008. They used social media to connect and train grassroots activists in communities across the country. Then they empowered them to do the kind of grassroots work in their own communities that the national campaign never could. That created a massive movement that political campaigns have been trying to emulate ever since.

Activists can now use social media to educate the public in ways they never could before. In essence, they can now cut out the middleman—ad agencies, newspaper editors, etc, who are often expensive and have competing interests. Even a simple hashtag—#blacklivesmatter, #beenrapedneverreported—can shed light on an issue can keep it in the spotlight far longer than traditional forms of communications. In both these cases, the hashtags actually left social media and became part of the larger public discourse.

That works just as well for fundraising, too—a key component of any social campaign. After the devastating earthquake in Haiti, Red Cross appeals for donations on Twitter got retweeted a remarkable 2.3 million times in just 48 hours. It’s no wonder that the US alone managed to raise $200-million for relief efforts.

Think about the last issue you go involved in, or donated to. Was there a social media component to it? Would you have known about it or donated to it if not for social media?