As an opening thought, I have a question for you – why do you go online? What is it that compels you to turn that computer screen on everyday?
I believe, if you aren’t online at least 80% of the time to make a difference in someone else’s life (even if it is your own) and further your soul or your intelligence or your self-actualization… then your time is not well spent.
Blog post focus this week: Can online social activism be meaningful and worthwhile? Is is possible to have productive conversations about social justice online?
I accentuated the “on”, because I believe online is still turning us ON to activism. I accentuated the “act” in activism because, to me, activism is all about taking action. However, while some people say speaking isn’t enough, speaking out is still a form of acting – it build community, and brings awareness, educating other minds to act beyond you. Typing, speaking, retweeting – it is all acting.
WHAT DID I LEARN FROM “THE EXPERTS”?
I decided to go onto Google Scholar, a site I learned about while in Education but never actually utilized (I always stuck to UR Summons and/or in-person library services). I was pleasantly surprised with how easy it is to type in keywords and get relevant, intelligent articles to read from. You can even create a Google Scholar profile and keep a “Library” of favorite articles and citations – how cool is that for the passionate academic reader?! It is so accessible that young kids can use it and learn the importance of getting news and information from a balance of public media and academic sites. The only downside is that you have to search the journal the article came from manually to see if it is peer-reviewed (no peer-review search option on Google Scholar – seems a shame but I suppose they want all of their searches to get the most hits!) Still, it is mind boggling you can get such rich resources (still with using your critical thinking skills) with such easy access and quick efficiency.
I saved these two articles to my Google Drive, as I didn’t realize from my mobile phone that I could start a Google Scholar profile and have my own library. I read them and will summarize what I learned from each:
The Dark Side of Online Activism
This article talks about how they use online activism (videos) to recruit people to their right-wing (fascist) ideologies and it mainly had me reflecting on how – like any tools in the online world – it is all about potential for good and bad choices. Just like we can use the online world to stop war, we can use the online world to start war. This got me thinking of the extreme terrorist videos that have been shown online, of killings of innocent journalists – that is all still considered activism, or people fighting for what they believe strongly in, as well. It is so important to step back and think: Am I acting with an equitable, peaceful end in mind, and will I use peace and relatability (not friction and war) to get there? There is a huge difference between offending someone for difference of opinion, and having rights (or lives) taken away. We never want to do the latter.
Does Slacktivism Hurt Activism?
Lee and Hsieh explain, “The goal of this study is to examine whether the decision to sign or not sign an online petition (slacktivism) affects subsequent donation to charity. Specifically, under what conditions will moral balancing effects occur? And under what conditions will consistency concerns dominate one’s decisions to take up a civic action?”
They define “slacktivism” as “activities such as clicking “like” to show support for an interest group on Facebook, signing online petitions, forwarding letters or videos about an issue, and painting one’s profile green to support demographic election in Iraq” and quote an outside source that says slacktivim is still acting, but on a minuscule scale. They go on to say some people believe slacktivism is not only useless, but detrimental to social movements: “despite its potential to reach people and raise awareness at large scales, critics continue to question the efficacy of this low-cost, low risk form of activism. Critics argue that slacktivism may hurt real activism—people may feel satisfied through their slacktivism and this type of low-cost civic participation decreases other subsequent activities that could make a difference. If critics are correct, then we must re-consider the use of slacktivism.”
Reflecting on this personally, I think that everyone (these researchers included) have to be so conscious of when they use the word slacktivism. They say it like any like on Facebook is slacktivism – any online activism really – yet I think it depends scenario by scenario. Maybe that like is enough to fix the problem, and in that case it is online activism.. Maybe it does nothing, and in that case it is slacktivism.
They found in their study that signing the petition had no ill consequence overall on subsequent donation, and found that it sometimes led to higher donations. This article is definitely worth a read!
These last articles were found with a simple Google (non-scholar) search as I felt I wanted to include a more relatable, less wordy and formal perspective:
Why Social Media is Reinventing Activism
The article starts out comparing how often people “Share” to how often they really share: “If you only measure donations, social media is no champion. The national chapter of the Red Cross, for instance, has 208,500 “likes” on Facebook, more than 200,000 followers on Twitter, and a thriving blog. But according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, online donations accounted for just 3.6% of private donations made to the organization in 2009.” Keep in mind, this is almost ten years ago.
The article then goes on to introduce different activists and how social media shaped their lives as activists and building activist communities. For example Shawn Ahmed using online awareness to bring in help and donations to help with disaster relief, and Craig Kielburger believes it is the easy accessibility of the Internet that helped bring in help for his Free the Children initiative.
Last but not least, this is a cool link to read about how several times (in this decade) that online activism grew into something important.
THOUGHTS ON PEER BLOGS
Brittany did, however, touch on a powerful subject, called “slacktivism” in her blog. I do think this can become very real. I think that if we fall into the pattern of retweeting and absorbing information without seeking out/creating avenues for solution, it can lead to feelings of being jaded, hopeless, and eventually – apathetic to horrific situations that need to be fought against. I think it is important to:
a) really dig into the other side(s) of the argument. Don’t just develop this invisible/superficial sense of “other” because it will lead to you, yourself, becoming prejudiced and stereotypical. What does a Trump supporter actually say, do, etc. Where are they coming from – WHY are they acting the way they are?
b) you need to have a support system of people who you know are on your side. There is nothing worse than feeling alone in an ocean of social media online, when you retweet and Share and get no likes or comments. I was told that politics and religion and anything controversial are not polite topics to be had and should be personal – I think we need to make it so we CAN have those conversations and get to know who our friends really are.
These are both tasks you can accomplish online. You can find people of all persuasions with simple Google searches. It is also more important than ever, when doing social media activism, that you are informed and critical of your sources. Do the sites you are reading have academic citations, first person interviews, lots of detail and clarity? There is nothing worse than sharing an article on Facebook that had a catchy headline WITHOUT READING THE ARTICLE (and I think we are all guilty at some point of doing this – whether it be sharing it online or discussing it among friends in person). The online community can quickly become a huge game of Telephone where the truth gets stretched and becomes something else – as citizens we ALL have the responsibility of upholding the truth.
ME AND ACT-I-VISM
I wanted to share my own personal connections to social activism. I started out on Facebook and Twitter terrified to share anything slightly controversial, for fear of losing friends and respect. I still have those fears and occasionally they hold me back but I have pushed myself further into a place where I value my opinion and quest for truth and goodness more than others’ opinions of me. I find out who my true supporters are, those who will stick with me and whichever marginalized group I am fighting for. I am gay myself, and have never come out to my family, even though I came out semi-comfortably to my Education classmates last year. I agree with what Katia said in our webinar chats when she says it is up to more than the oppressed to change the situations around, but I always felt so guilty, knowing I was who I was, and yet if I was approached to help make a GSA or state my opinion on it I avoided it to not “ruffle any feathers”. I post articles speaking out against homophobia almost every week or month and am no longer worried about offending others, and I attend Pride events whenever I hear about them. I credit the online world for being part of my gateway to being more comfortable in myself and my voice to change the world.
ECMP friend Robbi expressed to our class she was afraid to offend people in the pursuit of activism, and I get the merit of that. I love people, and I hate seeing people upset, ESPECIALLY if I caused it. However I still replied to her, “If we talk about racism we will probably offend racists!” Ultimately you cannot go about life avoiding offending all people, or in the process you yourself will go crazy. It is a matter of choosing who is worth offending, and how BEST to offend them in such a way that they can see why you are upset or concerned. Ultimately, if we say we are neutral or we support something but “don’t want to get involved”, we are on the side of the oppressor – if we are neutral, we are helping others get hurt by being the bystander. This powerful and humorous quote sums up exactly what I think of standing up for what you believe in:
This being said, I think that the most effective way to change is not through showing someone how angry you are. Sarcastic humour that points out how stupid the other side is doesn’t have the hope when it comes to getting the other side to “come around” to you. Respect and honesty are key. I think the most effective way is by drawing parallels, so they can see how others hurt the way they do. When we can relate to those we disagree with, I believe that is when we see the most change. That is why education, as opposed to war (what putdowns and angry outbursts can and do turn into) is the best form of activism. That is why, even online, our words matter.
I have taken action against Saskatchewan’s recent budget cuts in several ways. My Facebook page is full of probably over 10 shares spreading awareness on the budget cuts to our rural libraries and the unfortunate consequences happening due to this…
After my job was lost due to those budget cuts, I took to Facebook sharing websites on layoffs that will be happening shortly. I have had a handful of people like my articles, but that handful of people I know I can trust to be on my side, people who provide community and support in my fight to spread awareness and make a change. I feel like my online activity was not useless, but I do think that – given the nature of the thing I am protesting – it was better to take in-person action too. I signed a petition, and took to the streets with “save SK library” signs, and we picketed in front of Brad Wall’s office and read books in (possibly?) the largest peaceful protest in SK ever.
If you look at the photo below, Gwen and I are on the left, underneath the Central Place 245 sign – among approximately 200 other people! And, of course, the Lyric Theatre in the top right corner.
I have relatives who are related to Brad Wall (typical Swift Current scenario!) and sent him a personal message on Facebook, though I am not certain he will get it. I do feel that sometimes shaming (not fighting, but pointing out how they have hurt you) is a powerful way to get a message through to someone – different than getting people fueled up, angry, and ready to retort back at you. This is what I sent:
Brad. This is _______________’s daughter. I just lost the best job I have ever had, due to budget cuts. I have proudly protested for our libraries. From family of family, I am deeply disappointed. This could have been done differently.
IDEAS FOR THE CLASSROOM AND CLOSING THOUGHTS
When I reflect on how social activism can be meaningful online, I think of educational platforms where you can host debates between students so they learn those life skills that are needed to navigate the real world with people of different backgrounds and opinions, and simultaneously teach and learn. I think the online world can help us more with activism in that we can have conversations with (and see news/see videos of) people from around the world, or people in very different scenarios that we would not come into daily contact with in the real world. It allows us to put ourselves into way more peoples’ shoes and develop a compassion and a passion for fighting for others’ rights. We can have students argue different stances on debates through platforms like Flipgrid (with a judge and different sides, sharing arguments and rebuttals). The Flipgrid could then be shared around Facebook or Twitter to see how many outsiders share similar comments or could add to our video! (With parent permission for young children.)
However I then think of how Donald Trump is so infamous, and so many people have spoken out against him online (AND IN PERSON – at rallies) yet it has gotten the United States nowhere. It is almost similar to Kony (which we discussed in class) where it is almost like the attention has made him happier and fueled him to be more ridiculous. Like we discussed in class, if we are going to share or discuss issues, it should always be with a solution in mind. If I can make a little analogy:
Don’t complain about the fire, go to find the bucket(s) of water.
Don’t just complain about how crazy Donald Trump is – look into petitions you can sign that will be recognized politically, look into organizations with power fighting against him and join or donate to them, and so on. That is the difference between slacktivism and activism.