This is part three in a 4-part series where I share strategies that you can become more familiar with when it comes to activism: lobbying, writing campaigns and action alerts, using social media, and rallies/demonstrations. If you’ve read any of my other blog posts (and I thank you if you have been), you know that I’m all about sexual/reproductive wellness and rights, but I believe that these tips can be used for a variety of causes. Feel free to focus on the tips throughout the coming weeks that inspire you the most and what makes the most sense for your cause. 

Last week, we discussed tips for writing letters to the editor and to policy makers, and participating in political action alerts. These strategies involved different tactics, but together they each bring about one key result: taking quick action. This week, we’ll be discussing an even quicker way to get your message across: using social media. Social media has risen in prominence within the last decade, and many users are utilizing this medium for a variety of purposes. Today’s lesson is on showing how social media has changed the face of activism, how you can utilize it for your cause.

So what is “social media”?

If you ask 5 people what their definition of social media is, you’ll probably get 5 different answers. I think of social media as a platform of a variety of networks in which people and organizations share information, content, and other interests. There’s a lot of social networking sites , but most people are familiar with these: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn (These are the ones that I use the most.)

I’m going to make the assumption that you are either using the mentioned sites or are at least familiar with them, so I won’t go into the differences among these networks. (If you’re not familiar, click on the links and find out what they’re all about!) I use each for different purpose: I have a private Facebook account for friends and family, a Facebook business page, a Twitter account for networking and connecting with followers/friends, and a LinkedIn profile for connecting with former classmates and colleagues for consulting opportunities.

The ones I used the most to get the word out about different causes are Facebook and Twitter. And it looks as though many people around the world are doing the same. From Occupy Wall Street, to the execution of Troy Davis, to the Arab Spring, people are sending out updates and messages at a thousand tweets and Facebook status updates a minutes (and that’s just my personal estimate). Let’s go over the pros and cons concerns of using social media as a form of activism:

Pros of Using Social Media with Activism

It gets the word out quickly- When Michael Jackson died in 2009, so many tweets were sent out in the aftermath, Twitter was shut down as a result. At times, I find out about things on Facebook and Twitter before it ever hits the radio or the TV. 

The public awareness changes- We often base our views on current events on what we read in newspapers or see on the TV. With social media, we are challenged to find out what’s really happening in different parts of the world. People are now utilizing Facebook and Twitter to provide status updates and to send tweeted pictures of uprisings happening around the world so that we can see what the real deal is.

It’s very persuasive- Sometimes what we see in a tweet or Facebook status can become believable, especially when there are stats to back it up…and even when there aren’t any stats, people may still believe it (*read concern #3 below).

It has the ability to coordinate individual action to generate a major impact– President Barack Obama probably would not have been elected had it not been for utilizing social media in his campaign. It galvanized students, the elderly, and younger people who can’t even vote to be more on his side. Another example is, which takes the act of creating a petition and morphs it into change we can really see.

Concerns of Using Social Media with Activism

Fear of “bandwagon activism”– Sometimes, all it takes is something to inspire you, to motivate you, or to piss tick you off enough to want to take action. And sometimes, you take action because you see somebody else doing it, and you have no clear context for why you’ve chosen to take action. The biggest case I’ve seen of bandwagon activism: the execution of Troy Davis. Speaking out about the injustices of a potentially wrongly executed man when you know nothing about the circumstances that led to his execution, and actually researching the case before you take a stance are two completely different things.

It could promote “slacktivism”– As defined by Urban Dictionary, of all things, slacktivism is “the act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem.” In other words, going on a rant about an injustice on Twitter doesn’t mean much of anything if you don’t take the time to actually do something about it.

Misinformation can spreadRemember when Bill Cosby died in 2010, according to Twitter?

How to Avoid Bandwagon Activism & Slackivism

Don’t just stop after it’s over– After you send that action alert, or make that connection with your elected official, remember to follow-up. Don’t let it be just a one-time time.

Know what you’re talking about- Research, research, research! Seek out people and organizations that are familiar with your cause, who will listen to you, and will provide you with other people and resources that can help you learn more about your cause.

Meet people where they areBeth Kanter created a nifty Twitter Ladder of Engagement. Check it out!

Check in next week for our final lesson: participating in rallies, demonstrations, and civil disobedience.

Want to share some of your tips on how you’ve effectively used social media with activism (or how you’ve been most influenced by it)? Leave a comment below!

Related Posts:

Raise Your Voice with Activism: Lesson 4- Rallies & Protests

Raise Your Voice With Activism: Lesson 1- Lobbying