In a time when we spend more time on the internet and social media sites than we watch television, digital activism is shaping our worlds in a significant way. In the most recent election even, a significant number of voters stated that the majority of their information on their candidate and the election came from facebook; so it’s no wonder that what many would deign ‘slacktivism’ is one of the most effective ways to affect others and shape opinion.
You can see the way this happens without any significant effort— you don’t have to collect stats, use control groups, isolate groups, or set up scenarios to go out and find an example of how digital activism (for any cause) shapes opinions and affects change. One of the ways we see this, as an example many celebrities and figureheads have pointed out, is how we began to see racism represented on social media when camera or smart phones were accessible and in the hands of nearly every American.
White America became appalled (and still are to a degree) whenever a video of blatant and violent racism was shown on video or in comment sections. The answer was just the same as when violence became more and more covered on news channels: these incidents are not increasing in frequency; you are only being exposed to them more through the power of social media.
The amount to which you began to hear, “Racism is dead!” or “We don’t see color!” dropped rapidly until they very nearly became dead phrases. With mainstream news sites unable or unwilling to cover this subject, it was taken to social media and quickly spread to reveal to people, who were either willfully ignorant or in a place with very low racial diversity, that racism was alive and well in the US.
Not only does digital activism allow widespread access to information that may not be readily available or known to many, but shows and keeps record of discussion and opinion that, in a stunning show of social psychology, very subtly affects opinion.
As a personal example, those in their twenties or under have been affected by opinion on social media; something I well know. I would not be the same person if I hadn’t been influenced by positive representation and opinion of queer individuals. I consumed fanfiction, books, videos, articles, and more that included gay men, lesbian women, bisexuals, pansexuals, asexuals, transgender, and non-binary individuals so that it became a subject of normal, everyday life for me instead of a taboo or frightening topic.
It still allowed me to form my own opinions (don’t be alarmed, radical Christians) but it certainly exposed me to a positive representation instead of only being exposed to negative representation within my own community and what was in the news or on the TV. This sort of representation, even when I was not exposed or comfortable with the idea of positive queer opinion, also exposed me to a very fun social theory: If I see that I am in the minority, opinion-wise, I am less likely to continue to hold that opinion, share that opinion, or speak out against those who do not share my opinion.
So if you see an entire facebook feed full of nothing but Pro-Trump propaganda posted by your relatives and friends rolling on your phone’s screen, you are likely going to be swayed towards accepting the same opinion; this is how we incite change.
If I post something on intersection feminism on my facebook page (as I plan to) I am exposing those on my feed (teens, grandparents, parents, young, old, friends, boys, girls, non-binary, white, brown, etc.) and this gets shared by others, and spread to their feed, and so on and so forth, I am able to directly influence others with information. If they are unaware of intersectional feminism, or hold a negative idea of feminism, then what I post has the potential to change their opinion and inform them. And if continue to do this with intersectional feminism, and am joined by others, then slowly, but surely, I can affect them in a delightfully subtle way that protesting does not.
People can look at protesting (as they did with the women’s protest) and be entirely unaffected. They can even be affronted and have conversation with others (on the internet or otherwise) about how offended and upset they are about the protest because while the protest included millions of women, it was one day and they probably weren’t exposed to it very much beyond the negative media that likely flashed by on their Facebook or Twitter pages. However, if I take it to digital activism and directly challenge opinion as well as post several articles on the positive effects of the women’s march and why it was important that we had a women’s march, then, I feel, we are affecting opinion even more than we would with a standard protest.
What we are doing is not poorly executed or lazy; it is calculated and should not be underestimated. This needs to be remembered so that you are able to do your own digital activism, as well as understand when activism you do not want to spread comes across, how to shut it down, and how companies can use similar tactics to influence you. You can’t stick your head in the sand and say “I don’t like it!” Digital activism is here, it’s affecting you, and you need to understand it.
Digital activism is here, it’s affecting you, and you need to understand it.