Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter proved integral to the success of last year’s Arab Spring. The revolutions in the Middle East showed how social media can unite people across geographical borders and transformed our perceptions of a modern social movement. This year’s Kony2012, a campaign led by Invisible Children that seeks to expose Joseph Kony’s abhorrent human rights violations to the rest of the world, is also using social media with great success. Invisible Children’s 30-minute film was shared on almost every social media site and in just 72 hours had garnered more than 38 million hits on YouTube alone. Kony2012 would not have received such rapid and widespread recognition had it not been for the use of social media.
Social networking is now a critical tool for activists to lift their campaigns out of obscurity. The principle is simple enough. Social networking sites reach more people, across geographical boundaries and with far less cost than normal advertising and manual campaigning ever could. Technically, all that’s needed for an idea to receive acknowledgement or notoriety across the web is a few like-minded people who actively promote it within their individual social networks until it eventually breaks into new networks. Through its prevalence and great capacity to transmit information in real-time, social media facilitates the creation of a new breed of social activism.
Start an online campaign
Pursuing one’s quest for social change is now more accessible than ever. It’s no longer necessary to go door-to-door collecting signatures or travelling at great expense to promote as cause. Petitioners no longer need to face the disheartening rejection that comes from disrupting dinner or catching people at a bad time. Online petitioning tools and popular sites like Change.org and Petition Online are great examples of this new form of activism. There are no start-up costs, registration takes a few seconds and virtually anyone with access to a computer is now empowered to initiate campaigns for social change.
The best part? You don’t need to worry about misplacing signatures as all the data gets collected digitally and there’s no limit to the number of people you can reach, both locally and across the world. Furthermore, you’re not limited to campaigning for country-specific issues. If you’re a student living in Canada and are particularly interested in bringing awareness to the plight of women living miles away, in South Africa or Ecuador, you can direct your concerns to government representatives in those countries and put greater pressure on them to act by garnering worldwide support.
Change.org boasts victories on everything from the Bank of America’s decision to scrap plans for a $5 debit card fee, to the signing of shark fin bans in California and Toronto. This website and others like it are connected to nearly all the popular social networking sites, including Facebook and Twitter, giving petitioners the opportunity to share the campaign and reach more supporters.
Support a cause
For those not yet brave enough to independently start an online campaign, there’s always an opportunity to support a cause by adding one’s name to the list of supporters. These petition websites allow ordinary people without formal affiliations to generate support for any cause that’s important to them.
You will encounter a plethora of informal user-initiated campaigns and may have to spend some time searching for ones that you closely identify with. You can also opt to support the causes and campaigns headlined by your favourite organizations or charities, and sign up to receive email newsletters to ensure you’re always in-the-know about projects and appeals for support.
My inbox currently receives newsletters and alerts from The Innocence Project, Amnesty International, Humane Society International, Enough Project and various political affiliations. You may not always be “called to action,” but you will be better educated about the objectives of various organizations, their methods of campaigning and gain an overview of their financials, which will allow you to make an informed decision should you later decide to support the organization financially.
Money is not required to support a campaign. It takes very little effort to sign your name to a list of supporters or share a video, petition or article with your social network, which explains the rise in popularity for these methods of campaigning. Social media activism is particularly appealing to the younger generation who do not have the financial resources to leverage against companies or governments when demanding change.
Online activism is not an all-encompassing, magic solution to any and every social plight out there and you probably won’t change the world with just one click of the mouse. But maybe, just maybe, the email sent on your behalf or the publishing of your name on a list of supporters will put just enough pressure on high-powered CEOs or state agents to delve deeper into an issue and work towards implementing viable solutions. Social media leverages the power of the masses through individuals’ status as consumers, customers, supporters or voters. Social media facilitates common people’s access to power, so next time you stumble across an online petition, consider signing it. You may just become a part of something bigger.