You may not be surprised to hear that the internet has changed the whole landscape of social activism. The advent of social media, in particular, has made activism more immediate and constant. In the past, one issue may have dominated the news cycle, such as the civil rights movement, gender equality, or the Vietnam Moratorium. But, in 2018, your day is likely punctuated by updates on dozens of pressing social concerns vying for your attention.
There are three fundamental ways that digital technology has changed the way social activism works.
Online activism overcomes the most common barriers to participation: lack of time, lack of skills, and lack of money. Supporters have more ways to participate in social activities than ever before.
While critics point to ‘clicktivism,’ being able to sign petitions or participate in online decision-making processes like forums and surveys increase people’s awareness of social problems and encourage more significant commitment to the cause.
People now expect to be able to do something in the face of natural disasters or highlighted social problems.
- A focus on big ideas
Online presence requires short messages. Social movements rely on key messages and data rather than detailed policy platforms.
Successful social movements also emphasize unity and connectedness in their internet messaging. Information has greater credibility coming from a family member, friend, or acquaintance. Supporters help this unity by sharing social media posts with their networks.
The ubiquity of social media and online news means that the background awareness of issues is greater than ever. The twenty-four-hour news cycle and viral messaging means that natural disasters, wars, and reports of poverty and famine may seem less remote. And online social activism gives people individual agency to do something about it: it’s easy to make online or text donations to help earthquake survivors, for example. Similarly, local relief coordination is much easier using social media, texts, and apps.
- Political engagement
In the internet age, social movements use technology to pressure, influence, and compete with mainstream political parties.
Social movements compete with political parties for funding as donors see them as an alternative mechanism to promote and push for change on issues dear to their hearts.
Activists have successfully got their issues on the political agenda through the strategic use of social and mainstream media and targeted viral campaigns where supporters directly lobby politicians on behalf of the movement. Using social media means supporters can be mobilized quickly and in force.