Organizing Online

Organizing Online”  Please respond to the following:

  • Read “#SOCIALCHANGE” located on pages 474 and 475 of the textbook. Describe the manner in which social media provides a venue for activism. Provide one (1) example of online support for an issue or cause.



#SocialChange A preeminent form of social activism today is what has been termed “hashtag activism” (Dewey, 2014), essentially the movement to spread awareness online regarding social issues embraced and defined as important by well-known public figures and ordinary people alike. Hashtag activism is conducted on Twitter, an Internet platform actively used by 255 million account holders across the world and passively followed by millions more (Twitter, 2014). According to a study conducted for the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project, in 2013, 18% of online adults had Twitter accounts (a 2% increase from the year before) (Duggan & Smith, 2014). Twitter is not the only online platform used for social activism, but it has played a part in a number of broad public campaigns, such as the effort to capture alleged war criminal Joseph Kony, wanted for crimes of mass murder and rape in Uganda (#Kony2012), and the effort to draw attention to injustice in the killing of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent acquittal of the man who shot him, George Zimmerman (#JusticeforTrayvon). In the spring of 2014, a major campaign of hashtag activism was undertaken in response to the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls from a provincial Nigerian boarding school. Outrage over the girls’ abduction by a self-proclaimed radical Islamic group called Boko Haram (which means “Western education is a sin” in the local Hausa language) spread quickly in April and May of that year from domestic Nigerian activists and the young women’s aggrieved parents to become a global movement functioning primarily online through #BringBackOurGirls. Among the political and cultural luminaries tweeting their support of the kidnapped girls and demanding their safe return were First Lady Michelle Obama, British prime minister David Cameron, media personalities Ellen DeGeneres and Piers Morgan, young Pakistani activist for women’s and girls’ rights Malala Yousafzai, and even celebrities like Chris Rock and Amy Poehler. By the beginning of May, #BringBackOurGirls had accrued well over 2 million tweets (McGann, 2014). Online appeals also spurred public protests outside Nigeria, including demonstrations in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., calling for the safe return of the kidnapped girls.

Hashtag activism is, arguably, a potentially powerful technological instrument of social activism. First, it is a means for raising awareness of issues that might otherwise go unnoticed in our information-saturated modern world, particularly if well-known figures involve themselves in campaigns (as was the case in the #BringBackOurGirls campaign). Supporters of social media activism point out that heightened public awareness can put pressure on officials who are in a position to make or change policies or foster action on actionable issues (Seay, 2014). Second, hashtag activism has the potential to draw together concerned individuals and groups across the globe who might not otherwise have a means for uniting around a common cause. Such activism is not without its critics, however. It has been termed “slacktivism” and “armchair activism.” According to a Washington Post article on this modern phenomenon, “Users are urged to ‘like’ posts and pages on Facebook, share Twitter and blog posts with everyone they know, and to create videos or take a picture for Instagram relating to their cause” (Seay, 2014). “Slacktivism” has been the subject of recent social scientific research in which it was defined as the “willingness to perform a relatively costless, token display of support for a social cause, with an accompanying lack of willingness to devote significant effort to meaningful change” (Kristofferson, White, & Peloza, 2014, p. 1149). The researchers examined the question of whether “slacktivism” is likely to translate into more substantial (more costly or time-consuming or long-term) engagement with a cause. Interestingly, they found that those whose initial “activism” was private rather than public (for instance, writing a letter to a member of Congress versus “liking” or posting on Facebook) were more likely to engage deeply in the cause of interest. Public proclamations of interest were less likely to translate into meaningful engagement. Online social activism is likely to be a part of our lives for the foreseeable future, and we are likely to see hashtag and similar campaigns that seek our attention to a range of social, political, economic, and environmental issues. Sociological engagement with this phenomenon is still in its infancy. What would you like to know about it? How would you go about researching online social activism?