Social Media Activism, Digital Humanitarianism and Everything in Between

Social Media Activism, Digital Humanitarianism and Everything in Between

From music to social media, to binge-watching tv shows. What are the consequences of the 21st century’s digital revolutionisation? Carrot focuses on social media activism.

Though an overbearing cliché of our generation, social media and technology has fast evolved to replace many traditional forms of technology and communications. Where music was once reserved for MP3 players, photography for cameras, news for papers; many of these functions today are conveniently compacted into our smartphone devices. Many readers may even be viewing this article on their phone, but what are the consequences of this revolutionisation? And where do we stand on social media activism?

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Hashtag Activism vs Slacktivism: A double-edged sword

Traditional news media has been substituted by podcasts, tweets, online news providers and even TikTok’s for some. A newly emerging phenomenon, however, is social media or hashtag activism. This entails the utilization of social media channels to advocate for a certain social or political cause, promoting awareness and demonstrating solidarity. Social media has revolutionised activism in its reach and thus ability to mobilize audiences for human rights movements. Social media ensures a level of accountability and exposition that may not be met by mainstream media, for example in the case of the demonstration of concentration camps in China detaining Uighur Muslims. 

A topical illustration of hashtag activism is the Black Lives Matter (BLM) hashtag, empowering a transnational network of support. Though for many, social media provides a platform to cultivate a form of global consciousness, this method of activism is not devoid of criticism. The United Nations defines the term ‘slacktivism’ as “people who support a cause by performing simple measures but are not truly engaged or devoted to making a change”. Critics label gestures such as posting a black square for #blackouttuesday as performative, shallow and occasionally ill-informed.

Jakob Rosen/Unsplash

Infographics: Pretty & political 

A recognisable feature of digital engagement is the infographic which came to fruition at the height of the BLM movement. They possess a unique quality of dissecting complex subjects into aesthetically pleasing, digestible slide shows. Infographics are ubiquitous with Instagram, covering a range of progressive issues from climate change to pronouns and eating disorders. One major criticism revolves around the fundamental nature of the graphic; is it feasible, and even productive to attempt to compress deeply nuanced and complex socio-political issues into a limited number of words? For example, the multiple historically, and politically established factors influencing a conflict. 

The News: From televisions to newsfeeds

The less information that is available, the less likely individuals will be able to form a complete, well-rounded understanding of an issue. This is without considering the lack of a vetting process relating to the sources of such texts. Though perhaps providing a basis for understanding awareness and promotion of further research, it may become problematic when individuals receive news updates solely through social media.

Charles Deluvio/Unsplash

Corporate Misuse 

Companies may participate in forms of activism, which do not align with their past or present actions prompting backlash. This is certainly recognized by LGBTQ+ activists who have recognised the vast number of businesses changing their logos, selling special products and changing displays to incorporate a rainbow during Pride Month. Profiting from the promotion of Pride and failing to donate to LGBTQ+ organisations and charities is understandably viewed as duplicitous and exploitative.  

How to avoid being a ‘slacktivist’:

Social media provides an invaluable opportunity to create awareness and thus catalyse offline action. It is important to remember justice is more than a weekly trend or hashtag, it requires long term investment and commitment. Here are our top tips to avoid being a “slacktivist”:

  1. Firstly, to progress past the predicament of infographics, individuals should conduct independent research from a variety of sources. 
  2. Following this, users should use their platform to share their knowledge, responsibly and informed. 
  3. With the predicament of compassion fatigue, an often hopeless number of unjust causes overwhelm us on a day-to-day basis. It may thus be productive to focus energy on one issue at a time that wills your passion, setting realistic goals – world poverty and inequality will not be solved in a day.
Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona/Unsplash

Reflect and take caution

In an age where comments made by supermodel Bella Hadid invoked a response from the official Israeli government Twitter account, it is undoubtable that social media provides both value and a challenge to society. A plurality of information spreads instantly across a global network, and this is not to be dismissed. Users should take precaution when digesting user-generated content, as well as endeavouring to perform off-line action where possible. 

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