A few weeks ago, I went to the climate march in Amsterdam. I had heard about it through a recommended Instagram post on my feed and invited some friends of mine who were also interested in going. This lead me to the thought, if I hadn’t been recommended that specific Instagram post or if Instagram hadn’t existed at all, I don’t know if I would have even known about the protest taking place maybe I wouldn’t even have gotten interested in activism in the first place. This is why I chose to write this blog post about how social media is changing the way we do and engage in activism.
Why activism and social media work so good together
Social media such as Twitter, Facebook and TikTok reach large audiences of people and make it possible for other people to also reach such audiences. Through their algorithm, they provide a platform in which provided information is able to be communicated to its target audience. Especially in activism, this is an important aspect of the social media since one of the main goals of activist activities is spreading its message, especially to people who it might be relevant to or who would be interested in joining the activist activities. Social media makes activism more accessible not only by offering the information in a more affordable way but also by providing a practically free platform to creators who otherwise would not have been able to be in a position to reach this platform. Not only does activism profit off of the abilities social media provides, social media also provides from activism. Activist activities often spark a lot of social media engagement, it being the emotional and political (two things which work very well on the internet) thing it is, off of which the social media platform profits. Social media and activism reinforce each other and play in on each others strengths, making them work together extremely well.
Digital activism also has its downsides, especially activism that only takes place online faces issues. The first of these issues is the lack of organisation the activism has. On platforms such as Twitter, there is no clear organisation leading the activist activities as the platform is completely open. Without clear organisation, there is often not one clear motive of the protest or other activist activities, making it way harder, even near impossible, to achieve real-life socio-political change. Moreover, since social media platforms are more indirect, performative places than non-digital activist spaces as well as the fact that the algorithm pushes the user into a ‘digital information bubble’, digital activism invites performative activism.
In my opinion, activism is at its best when it combines the digital with the non-digital such as the climate march of 6 November did. While providing from the positives of social media, reaching a large and the right audience and creating a platform for marginalised creators, it avoids the downfalls by having a clear organisation and motive as well as largely eliminating performative activism. I love that activism and socio-political engagement in general is getting promoted more through the use of social media and I hope that this continues to be so. If you are interested in joining the activist world yourself, you might be interested in Amnesty NL, the 2021 climate march Instagram account or the housing protest account.
Other sources used:
Altbach, Philip G., and Robert Cohen. ‘American Student Activism: The Post-Sixties Transformation’. The Journal of Higher Education 61, no. 1 (1990): 32–49. https://doi.org/10.2307/1982033.
BRENNAN, GLYN. ‘HOW DIGITAL MEDIA RESHAPES POLITICAL ACTIVISM: MASS PROTESTS, SOCIAL MOBILIZATION, AND CIVIC ENGAGEMENT’. Geopolitics, History, and International Relations 10, no. 2 (2018): 76–81.
Carlisle, Juliet E., and Robert C. Patton. ‘Is Social Media Changing How We Understand Political Engagement? An Analysis of Facebook and the 2008 Presidential Election’. Political Research Quarterly 66, no. 4 (2013): 883–95.