Social Media and Activism

Social Media and Activism

If you are anything like me then social media is your go-to activity to wind down. It’s the place where you mindlessly wander around and sink into the abyss of comedy, friends’ pictures, all things celebrity, and my favorite guilty pleasure—ratchetness (i.e. any real housewives show on Bravo).  Our reliance and use of social media is growing…..just ask your teenagers to get off their phone.

Social media’s influence lies in the billion users that span most of the world. In 2010, there were a little less than 1 billion social media users worldwide. Currently, there are approximately 2.6 billion and in 2021 it is projected that there will be over 3 billion social media users worldwide.  Given the number of people who use social media, the amount of money generated by social media networks topped 30 billion dollars worldwide in 2016. With so many users and so much money, social media is here to stay, and its power will only grow.

While researchers are beginning to explore just how powerful social media is in shaping people’s behaviors and thoughts, recent political events suggest that social media may influence people’s voting behavior. Political pundits continue to debate the relevance of Russia’s social media attacks on the 2016 Presidential elections.  Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, had to testify in front of Congress regarding the amount of information shared with corporations linked to Russia.  The mere fact that corporations and governments are interested in using social media to share news— fake or not–suggests that social media may be more powerful than we are willing to believe.

So, what should we do with this power…this influential information source? Should we continue to be consumed with sad news stories? Should we continue to cut off people who have different thoughts than ours? Should we continue to surf the world of ratchetness and gossip? Well…maybe….

We could also begin to use social media as way to improve lives and communities.

In a recent article published in Counselling Psychology Quarterly myself and my coauthors highlight how social media can be used for social activism. We provide five types of activist that can use social media to promote social justice. The five types are the Researcher, Supporter, Informer, Advocator, Agitator.

A researcher social media activist would use social media to conduct research and inform research ideas. One of the many benefits of social media is that it connects people who may not otherwise know each other. Thus, the researcher activist would post surveys and recruit research participants in chat rooms and comment sections. They may also develop research questions by exploring comments from the “other-side” of the Book or the Gram. The researcher activist can also share research findings on social media. They would need to make the findings interesting and relevant to the masses but instead of focusing on disseminating research to only academics, the researcher activist would focus on sharing findings to everyday people.

Another social media activist is the supporter. The supporter activist is the “wooo, wooo, wooo…wooo, wooo, wooo” of social media. They use their account to provide emotional or financial support to social justice activists or causes. They can link their followers to organizations, create supportive chat groups, or post inspirational messages to social justice hashtags. The supporter activist may share fundraising campaigns or make donations to social justice causes.

The informer is a social media activist who uses their account to spread the word about social justice. They share videos, posts, and articles regarding social justice activities or information. The informer activist is the MVP of the repost feature. They may repost academic articles to help make academic research viral.  They are the receptacle and sharer of social justice information.

The advocator social media activist is the political friend we all need in our lives. This person is your go-to-person for all things politics, laws, and public policy on social media. They keep track of all the local, national, and international laws that are upcoming and shares them on social media. They may send out information about political candidates or political rallies. The advocator activist may also connect their social media followers with public policy organizations.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Freedom only comes through persistent revolt, through persistent agitation, through persistently rising up against the system of evil.”  The last social media activist, the agitator, lives by this motto.  They are the provocateur on social media. They use controversial topics and issues to disrupt conventional wisdom by inserting socially just information. The agitator may comment on opposing news articles by posting a dissenting news articles in the comment section. They may share political scandals or hypocrisy within a person’s views. The agitator seeks to create dissonance in order to create possible change in person’s views.

As social media continues to grow, so will how we use it. Social media may be the platform that connects us all social justice globally. While the identities listed above are my thoughts on how to bridge social media and social justice, we are curious to hear what you think? Are you any of the activists we listed above? What other types of social media activists are there? Let us know your thoughts.

The full article on how to use social media to empower communities can be found here.

Shareefah Al’Uqdah PhD, Assistant Professor and Director of Training, Howard University Counseling Psychology Program

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