Issues Facing Social Media Activism

While social media is a powerful medium through which youths express the issues important to them, there is a plethora of obstacles standing in their way. From privacy issues to the actual effectiveness of social media, it is an incredibly complicated issue.

One of the biggest problems facing youth expression via social media is the institutional self-censorship of social media. What I mean by that is that while one is allowed to virtually say anything,and support whatever cause one wants on social media, what a person posts, says, or does can directly affect their offline lives as well. Recently there have been many reports of employers asking for access into the employees Facebook.  While I understand that it is an easy way to thread out the perverts, slackers, and party animals from the employee pool, it is a clear invasion of privacy. Even if a person is not directly asked for their password during a job interview, knowing that ones ideas may be criticized leads to self censorship. Knowing that standing up for an unpopular cause may utter one unemployed can and does keep them from expressing their opinions and doing what they consider to be the right thing to do.

Social media can have very destructive effects on campaigns. My favorite example has to do with Rick Perry’s “Strong” youtube advertisement. With its blatant anti-gay rhetoric a campaign was organized to show their dislike by giving the video 200,000 thumbs down, and overwhelming majority. I participated in this particular campaign, and while the actual affects will never be know, soon after he dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential campaign.

Even when the internet saavy youth is unaware of the affects of what they post, simply joining a virtual cause may not be enough. John Stewart, the influential Comedy Central host, criticized the effectiveness of social media activism in a recent episode of the Daily Show . In the clip he brings attention to the fact the Kony 2012 campaign, a video relating the war crimes of Joseph Kony, went viral.

It ends with the senior youth correspondent becoming excited and wanting to make a difference about the situation in Syria after viewing a ‘viral’ video featuring a funny dog and an educational voiceover. What the correspondent wanted to do to stop the violence was to put up posters around town. While this may be a good method to raise awareness, it does little to actually change what is occurring in Syria, Uganda, and around the world. My favorite quote from the clip was “this video is very dangerous. Because young people are learning from it and wanting to get involved. It threatens … ignorance based foreign policy[of the US]”.

In regards to ignorance based foreign policy, other critics of this particular social media campaign criticize the ‘slactivist’ culture is perpetuates. As both a Forbes and Mashable articles showed, the campaign is by definition “slactivist”, however, it was created to raise awareness and the power that the youth has to spread messages and bring attention to Ugandan warlords is priceless.

An interesting notion raised in the video has to do with comparing the campaign to the very popular Old Spice commercials. The speaker makes the point that while many people watched the commercial, not everyone who viewed it bought the deodorant, and yet their sales rose. Most people will not go out and make a change, but the sheer size of campaigns of this size makes a difference as it does influence many people.

As Zoe Fox ends her article she poses  a powerful question“Do you think slacktivists can be powerful change makers? Are shares and tweets irrelevant compared to other actions?” I argue that one on hand bringing attention to otherwise ignored topics is crucial, but can have negative affects if in fact it is lieu of actual, physical, campaigns to incite change about issues relevent to the youth. If someone created as catchy and eye opening of a video about GenDebt and rising tuition prices, could it be controlled?

Social Media Campaigns and Youth Interactions

Social media is quickly becoming the preferred means of communication for teens and young adults. They take pictures with Instagram and then tag their friends on Facebook.  For fun they retweet what their favorite celebrities are doing on Twitter. Tumblr they use to reblog angsty photos, and on Pinterest they plan their future weddings. Finally, they (sometimes) put on a professional demeanor and list their work experience on Linkedin. The internet is an inescapable medium. What I am interested in has to do with these youths and how they express their problems and contribute to social media campaigns to make changes occur.

One incredible story of youths taking action into their own hands had to do with two youths, Max Jones and Juliana Chaloux. They both found out about two American journalists being arrested in North Korea and they decided to do something about it! Initially this issue was ignored in the media, these dedicated teens,however, decided to take the matter into their own hands and raise awareness through a free, easy, and omnipresent source- Facebook. They succeeded and recruited over 15,000 members into their Facebook group in support of their cause. In turn this group went out, organized vigils, and took a stand. As a Daily Beast article points out, social media gives people a voice in the decision making institutions that are often for out of touch with its citizens most pressing issues.

As the Canadian Journal of Communication pointed out, youths and people in general can voice their opinions three different ways online. They can become a fan of a page, create a page, or simply show their political affiliations on their “about me” page. I argue, that there are more ways than just this. While influence is a complicated subject, people tend to trust their friends opinions, and especially recently I have witnessed youth activism on Facebook through the sharing and posting of links. Similar to the exercise  conducted in class, people regularly express their opinions through comments shared to their friends. On more than one occasion I have witnessed heated discussions on topics directly affecting youth today.

An interesting use of social media was Scott Gerber’s video promoting a rally on college campus’s to in turn urge Stephen Colbert to shed light on youth unemployment. As a graduating Senior I can contest to the fact that youth unemployment is a major issue the youth considers extremely important.

A more recent, larger social media campaign has to do with the murder of Trayvon Martin. The Trayvon Martin case, for example, received widespread attention after his parents started a campaign. It is the biggest campaign for the Change  organization.

In conclusion, social media is an excellent medium for youth activism. The internet is full of examples where Facebook, Twitter, etc initiated change. As the Media, Youth Activism & Participatory Politics: Case Studies in a Digital Age points out social media really is effective. It is a medium that gives voices to otherwise ignored groups, and helps to invigorate our democracy by letting every voice be heard.

Other Social Media Blogs

With a quick Google search I found blogs, upon blogs, on a variety of issues from catmemes, the occupy movement, and my topic of interest: social media and youth relationships to it.

The first blog I looked at was written by Laurel Papworth, who judging by the examples and issues relating to Australia was presumably from Australia. “THE BUSINESS OF BEING SOCIAL – ONLINE COMMUNITY NEWS” was a blog that talked about issues and news concerning social media. Laurel’s credentials are evident by the superb form the blog takes. It is clean, organized, and yet full of information. It is simple, black writing on a white background and the voice Laurel conveys is informative. Each post is broken down by short paragraphs and educational links and videos. Every post is relevant. The main page shows paragraph blurbs about each topic, and once a viewer clicks on it they are taken to another page where they have access to the entire blog post. This format makes it easy to only look at posts one is interested in, and allows for expansion on each topic on the separate blog page. A particulary interesting post had to do with flash mobs loosing their grassroots origins of taken a stand on a subject. She seemlessly integrates quotes and videos to make her point.

The second blog I looked at was much less formal, and had a much more opinionated tone. Progressive Campaigning is all about different social media campaigns, their affectiveness, as well as effects. The format was upbeat and young as exhibited by a polka dot background. Generally the posts were short and to the point, with hyperlinks and videos attached when appropriate. The entire blog was generally about the same topic, with each post branching out and giving individual examples. Something the author could have done better was analyzed the topics more for their social implications and not just their affectiveness. The last blog I looked at was called PatinLeftField and the post that I found most interesting looked at the issue of Facebook in schools in combating cyber bullying. The author has a strong opinion but it is an incredibly complicated issue. The blog itself, however, has an ugly form. It was very commercial,and hard to read. The posts were seemingly random and very unorganized. It showed me how not to proceed when writing my blog.