Does online activism make a difference?


Jessica Pellegrino – General Assignment Reporter

It is a simple enough task to share a post or tweet using a hashtag. Posts that claim you should like this if you careor “share for awareness” fill most newsfeeds today. But is online activism effective?

The most mentionable platform for online activism is Twitter. Tweeting has allowed a global conversation regarding politics and social issues to flourish.

According to the Brown Political Review, the hashtag revolution does have some merit. Millions of tweets followed the #blacklivesmatter movement. Also, shortly after the #bringbackourgirls hashtag went viral, 200 of the girls did return home. There is the old saying there is power in numbers.

Another success story to come out of Twitter in the #handsupdontshoot hashtag. This hashtag prompted the formation of Hands Up!,” a youth non-violence coalition.

But to think that a 140 character tweet could save the world is not possible. Before there was Twitter or Facebook, there were petitions. There were American citizens writing legislation and protesting issues. Is it possible that online activism is crippling us as a nation? People share a post on Facebook and think that their social responsibility is complete. However, it is not.

Online activism is great for educating the masses on current problems. But as far as an activism tactic, it is passive to only retweet or share a post. While you are perpetuating education, you are not doing much to solve the problem.

On the other end of the spectrum, on a smaller scale, online activism can create just the right amount of pressure to bring down an issue.

For example, an astronomy professor at Berkeley resigned after almost 3,000 students signed an online petition to get him pushed out of his position for sexual assault allegations dating back to 2001. The professor had successfully ignored the allegations for over a decade, but once the online petition gained momentum, and Buzzfeed posted an article about it, the online presence of the issue put pressure on the professor. The professor even went as far as to post a public apology on his blog, furthering the online presence of the situation and serving at the computer level.

We have to keep in mind that, in general, most movements fail. Most petitions go unnoticed. Most posts shared lead to nothing. But some do. Some petitions prompt action. Sometimes, individuals see an issue on Facebook, and they do research. They want to learn more.

I think that even if online activism is not completely effective, the educational aspect of online activism makes the tweet worth it. It used to be that if you wanted to see the issues of the world, you were forced to pick up a newspaper or turn on the news.

Nowadays, it cannot be ignored. It is everywhere. Maybe this makes us a more socially and politically responsible country. Regardless, when you cannot ignore something, you are more likely to act on it. So, in general, your tweet might not bring down a dictator or cure Malaria, but for all you know, the person who sees it after you just might.

Tweet and share on. Educate yourself and people around you. When it is possible, sign a petition or march in a protest. Your activism does not have to stop at the glow of the computer screen.

Photo Credit: Jason Howie

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