Being Moved by Online Social Movements

Can online social activism be meaningful and worthwhile?

Hastags on social media such as #metoo, #blacklivesmatter, #climatemarch are all campaigns to raise awareness for social issues with the objective to effect change.     This form of social activism is known as cyberactivism, internet activism, or digital activism and is designed to initiate a citizen-based movement toward a specific goal, cause or objective using social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn to name a few. The objective of these movements might be to raise awareness, organizing physical gatherings, or raising money to create change around social, policy or environmental issues as an example.

In our #eci831 course, we have been asked to consider whether we believe online social activism is meaningful and worthwhile. Personally, I would like to think it is. I have been moved by the recent awareness campaign on sexual harassment issues, particularly in the workplace, by the #metoo online social movement. It has encouraged me to have personal (offline) conversations with friends and family to spread the message and ponder what we can do to help young women and men understand their rights and responsibilities when it comes to harassment. It has also inspired me to bring in guest speakers (human resource consultants and advocates) into the classroom to equip students as they enter the workplace.

On this note, Susan Kent from This Hour Has 22 Minutes recently shared her #metoo story. I appreciate her perspective as a female in a position of power. It is perspectives like these that really bring further understanding to these issues, to keep the conversation going, and to make sure that all women are aware and are protected.

Katia Hildebrandt, our facilitator for our EC&I 831 course last Tuesday, argues that as educators have a responsibility to bring light to social inequalities while online. As she puts it:

We have a responsibility to risk our privilege to give voice to social inequities and injustices. We have a responsibility to risk our privilege to give voice to those who have no privilege to risk.

This is very inspiring and also a bit intimidating. Until recently, I never considered  commenting on controversial or politically charged issues on social media. Similar to the concerns Tayler mentions in her blog, I don’t want to be judged for my position and/or experience (re: #metoo), nor do I care to get caught up in an online battle. This may seem that I don’t want to risk my reputation for the sake of a speaking up. For me, it goes beyond that. I often feel ill equipped to speak from a position of knowledge and understanding in debating certain issues. What service would I bring to the issue if I were not able to speak from a position of knowledge? In my opinion, having productive conversations online requires one to broaden their scope of knowledge and understanding, thus bringing awareness in a thought provoking way.

Is raising awareness of social issues online worthwhile from the perspective of advocacy groups? Interestingly, a recent study surveying 63 Canadian advocacy groups found that the majority did not rely too heavily on social media to further their cause, citing the risk of slacktivism, which may delude them into a false sense power. Rather, they tend to focus the majority of their resources on strategies that have been proven, such as “on the ground techniques”.

Translation to my Role as an Adult Educator

To avoid the “click like, but no action” of slacktivism, and perhaps aid in advocacy groups finding social media more worthwhile, I have been thinking of ways in which I could involve my students in active digital citizenship. Ways in which I can help move them along the continuum of Westheimer’s Kind’s of Citizens, as adapted in Katia Hildebrandt and Alec Couros‘s blog post What Kind of (Digital) Citizen, from personally responsible citizen to become more participatory and justice oriented citizens. The latter type of citizen actively participates in social issues and strives to become an agent of change.

It feels at the moment that the possibilities are endless in our Leadership and Human Resource and Relations courses. To help the students think of a social issue to champion throughout the semester we can use the lesson plan provided by Katia to create a social media activism project. To be more manageable, I may have the students work in small groups. I would build into the project “on the ground” volunteer hours  that need to be dedicated to furthering the cause. This may be in the form of organizing food drives, raising awareness and help stop the stigma of mental illness, or demonstrating environmental concern. Promoting their chosen project and sharing their experiences in social activism can be facilitated by the students and myself on various social media outlets including blogging, Twitter, and Facebook.

I really appreciated the thought provoking subject of social media activism this week. I am excited to incorporate this into my curriculum when I return to the classroom!

Questions for Discussion

How have you overcome your fears or hesitation of social activism online? Do you think thoroughly educating yourself on the issues first is necessary to make a difference in your online discussions?

Has any social movement motivated you recently to become a more active digital citizen? Did it translate into taking action?

3 thoughts on “Being Moved by Online Social Movements

  1. Great post Coralee. I agree when you spoke of being a bit intimidated in speaking up for something you believe in because you don’t want to get “caught up” in a battle. I understand your feelings because as educators we are role models, and are always “being watched” and criticized. We are held to a higher standard than others, and can be reprimanded for things that we say or do when not working. This is very scary. I really feel strongly that activism needs to take place not only via social media, but in person. If we feel so strongly about something, we should not hide behind our screens jumping on “bandwagons” of activism.
    I am very aware of the online activism that is occurring, and chose to have a voice in the things that I will “act” on. Just because I don’t respond to some, doesn’t mean I condone them, and am ignoring them…but I feel I am not a hypocrite by just clicking and liking something that I won’t actually do something about.
    Great read…. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I also feel intimidated to speak up sometimes due to the backlash that could happen. Before this I did not really consider what Katia said about not speaking up is also saying something. That has stuck with me and I am now at a place where I am trying to figure out what that looks like from here on out. Great post

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I 100% agree that you need to have some background knowledge before jumping into a cause that you do not know much about but think that this can be done in a collaborative way such as asking on social media for good sources of information. This demonstrates you are taking an interest in the campaign and, although you should also do some of your own research, you are engaging with the cause while you are gaining your background information. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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