Social Media and Activism

By Olivia Weiner

Reposts and hashtags are all the rage when it comes to spreading news of injustice on social media, and can provide helpful information when it comes to making a difference.   How to find a rally? Check Instagram. How to donate to a cause? Swipe up. Social awareness is always a good thing, but is it actually effective when it comes to creating change? Are we lulled into a sense of  - “hey, I posted about it, so I did my part” - without ever actually having to step up and get our hands dirty?

Posting a picture to your story can only accomplish so much, especially in high school when most of our followers are like-minded friends and family, who share many of the same concerns and beliefs. The big question is, with no physical action taken, is activism even activism, or is it simply sharing an opinion? Yes, sometimes people with a large following can spread the word, and getting as many eyes as possible on any given issue is a good thing. But online social awareness can also be misleading. 

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I can remember the month where it seemed like everyone on Instagram was posting about @sudanmealproject and turning their profiles blue. The account promised one meal to a starving Sudan child for every person who reposted a photo about the project on their Instagram. They amassed hundreds of thousands of followers in the process. Just a couple of clicks and you - without ever leaving your house - could make a real difference in the world. It almost sounded too good to be true.  And guess what? It was. In retrospect, it didn’t really add up. There was no website, no path to monetize and fundraise.

 Also, there is no way to track how many times a post is reposted. In the end, credible news sources from the BBC to CNN exposed the scam that was designed in order to gain followers.  And so, the question becomes, is activism something that appears in the ether and floats into our feeds, allowing us to post hashtags and slogans and hyperlink? Or, is real activism about actually putting in the work and doing more than just changing your profile picture? 

It’s undeniable that social media has given a voice to underrepresented groups and it can clearly raise awareness about a variety of causes that we might never hear about otherwise — I just wish more of social media activism was backed up by real, tangible action. Volunteer at a women’s shelter. Donate to a local food bank. Cut back on the amount of meat you eat. Attend a local march or protest.  And, hey, while you do it, hashtag and repost your heart away... but don’t forget that putting in the hard work is what true activism is all about.