• Gianmarco Panzini

Social Media and Social Movements

It is obvious that social media has become a cornerstone in the average person’s everyday life. With regular social events coming to a halt because of the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, a person’s social media presence has become an even larger outlet for personal expression and interaction. With not much to do locked away in homes during quarantine, people look to connect/interact through their media accounts. Unfortunately, in this time of pandemic, society seemed to have further rifted itself through bad politics and racial injustices. The unjust murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have sparked countless protests and have once again brought to question the justice system. People have turned to social media to organize protests and voice their concerns in hope of reaching change. This new age protesting evidently has its pros, but there are underlying reasons as to why some of these efforts quickly fizzle out.

Social Media’s wide range and ability to connect millions of people, gives its users the power to spark a large-scale social movement if done properly. Posts can be created and shared rapidly, igniting a movement and spreading a message like a wildfire. But just as fast as these trends spread, they can dwindle out just as quick. These movements can fall victim to the fast paced and ever changing climate of social media. Movements like #BlackoutTuesday and #Metoo did well in bringing forth their issues, but it was active and constant actions that got them addressed. Social Media can be a great starting point for social representation but needs to be utilized properly in order to orchestrate a meaningful and effective movement.

Adeline Koh from the American Association of University Professors brings forth a thought on social media’s use in activism; that it can possibly cause further alienization amongst people. She states:

They argue that radical political actions require stronger ties than social media can provide. This dismissive view has its roots in a strain of Marxist thought that regards media tactics as mere “spectacle” and argues that real activism takes place on the street. Such fetishization of the “real,” however, ignores one of Marx’s central premises—that a revolutionary movement should show people their true relationship to the means of production. For Marx, obscuring or confusing this relationship results in alienation.

She argues that people feel satisfied with their supposed activism on social media, which in turn doesn’t really have much of an effect on politics. Koh uses the term "slacktivism" to explain the idea of false activism through social media. People will be less motivated to actually revolt against government policies because they feel that a "like" on social media is sufficient to a cause. One can say that social networking may better connect people, as well as give them a larger political voice, but at the same time it takes away motivation to act on these social movements. Slacktivism can further alienate users from acting on issues by creating a space for issues to be brought to light, but not having active movers on the issue.

The lack of proper organization and leadership is what dooms these movements. No structure or a clear message creates instability within the movement, making it fade out with no lasting effects. Consistency and persistence with social issues through the media can put pressure on politicians to consider changing policies, but assembly and protests is what drives them to decisions. For example, the Defund Police Campaign has been looming through the second half of the chaotic 2020 year to the point that it has been addressed in the presidential debates. Media representations of injustices and issues gives its users the ability to witness what they couldn’t before, but it is up to the user to understand these problems, pull them out of the medium, and push for change.

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