In times of crisis, the need to connect and share becomes even more critical. It is inspiring to see our community coming together to help people in their time of need.
–Mark Zuckerberg, 2015
Despite the diversity of opinions around the real effects of online activism, it seems to be something which all researchers, scholars and experts agree: the way in which the Internet is able to bring and voice issues that are not normally covered by other means of traditional media is one of the main contributions to activism towards furthering social and political change. In words of Andreas Kaplan, professor of Marketing at the ESCP Europe Business School: “Social Media is less about explaining why your baking mix, detergent, or shampoo is better than anyone else’s than it is about engaging others in open and active conversation.”
Social media is not the absolute solution for collaborative action, but the way in which it has shaped how people connect and organize for further action is something we shouldn’t ignore. People are clearly claiming action through different Internet platforms, but what motivates people to do so? Here are some of the most common incentives for online mobilization:
Quick Access to Information and Organization
It is true that the amount of information that can be found on the Internet is so big that it can be overwhelming sometimes. When it comes to information regarding certain social actions, it may be truly helpful. The quick access to communication around when, where or how an offline mobilization will take place is one important accelerator when it comes to social mobilization.
Some scholars like Prudence Cumberbatch and Nicole Trujillo-Pagán, writers for the Radical Teacher journal, argue how nowadays some social media actions has been used to facilitate and organize the planning of protests and to build solidarity around people more than building awareness around specific social issues or promoting public discussions on race and social justice.
In one study conducted by Sebastián Valenzuela, professor at Chile’s Pontificia Católica University, he explains how is it possible to find mobilizing information on social media platforms, “either by direct exposure to messages and profiles of social movements, NGOs, and other interest groups, or indirectly through incidental exposure.” For the mainstream news, media is a different thing, “[they] have limited capacity to transmit mobilizing information, as most journalistic operations perceive that this type of content violates norms of neutrality.”
One good example for this is the testimony of DeRay Mckesson, a civil rights activist that participated in the Ferguson protests in 2014, who states:
By tweeting and finding other users who were using #Ferguson, we were able to find housing and plan protests as well as give first-hand accounts of what was happening in Ferguson for people who were not there, such as myself.
Regarding another type of information different from just mobilizing communication, one of the things that makes the Internet unique for social collaboration is the quickness with which data, information, and stories are transmitted and shared between users from all around the world. Feeling like you can do something to help make a difference is one of the most common motivations that are expressed by social media users. Cumberbatch and Trujillo-Pagán point out that, “organizationally, this unrefereed access to one another distinguishes the youth of today from their Civil Rights era predecessors who relied on public spaces, newspapers, and television.” Now, the least represented voices have a chance to be heard and to appear at the head of social movements. The Internet not only spreads information quickly, it also allows real time updates of it frequently from different sites and perspectives.
Ritu Sharma, co-founder and executive director of Social Media for Nonprofits, discussed with the Huffington Post information about social and political issues, “It’s not just noise. It’s having an effect… The issues highlighted through social media inspired people to take action.” When sharing their stories and experiences, some people find similar struggles that bring them to show support or solidarity. Also, similar to the empathy theory described in Omoto, Snyder and Hackett’s Personality and motivational antecedents of activism and civic engagement research, it inspires others that through the process of seeing other’s struggles are capable of feeling empathy and are more likely to follow through supporting and engaging further action.
Sense of Community
The Internet has shot down the physical barriers that members of the society had: it has allowed people to discover, connect and interact with others that share similar ideas or concerns at the point to feel that they belong to the same community even if they live thousands of miles away from each other. Ritu Sharma states that one of the strongest attributes of social media is that “it provides an environment and a medium for people to express themselves independently, and yet find community,” and it’s “as real and as powerful as a group of people physically gathered in the same space.”.
This idea of belonging into a community with similar concerns creates the space for effective online organization when it “promotes personal and group identity construction…by allowing multiple channels for interpersonal feedback, peer acceptance, and reinforcement of group norms,” argues professor Valenzuela. He also finds in his study that the trusting relationships built among members of the online community can further enhance the potential to increase their commitment to protest.
Although analyzed separately, it is evident the strong interconnectedness of all the possible motivations mentioned. It is almost impossible to imagine one motivation without the other. They can be linked to other different political, social, cultural and individual factors.
Maybe you can’t directly change the world, but are you ready to start making a difference?
Cumberbatch, P., & Trujillo-Pagán, N. (2016). Hashtag Activism and Why# BlackLivesMatter In (and To) the Classroom. Radical Teacher, 106. Retrieved from https://radicalteacher.library.pitt.edu/ojs/index.php/radicalteacher/article/view/302/222
Kaplan, A. M., & Haenlein, M. (2010). Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media. Business horizons, 53(1). Retrieved from http://michaelhaenlein.com/Publications/Kaplan,%20Andreas%20-%20Users%20of%20the%20world,%20unite.pdf
Mckesson, R. (2016). In Hudson, T. Why social media activism is not a cop-out. Odyssey. Retrieved from https://www.theodysseyonline.com/why-social-media-activism-is-effective
Omoto, A. M., Snyder, M., & Hackett, J. D. (2010). Personality and motivational antecedents of activism and civic engagement. Journal of Personality, 78(6). Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-6494.2010.00667.x/abstract
Sharma, R. (January 12, 2015). Social media as a formidable force for change. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ritusharma/power-of-social-media-dem_b_6103222.html
Valenzuela, S. (2013). Unpacking the use of social media for protest behavior: The roles of information, opinion expression, and activism. American Behavioral Scientist, 57(7). Retrieved from http://blogs.uoregon.edu/foodsystems/files/2013/09/Valenzuela-z4e0bg.pdf