by Navaal Mahdi
Ever since the widespread use of social media began a few years ago, varying online communities have formed on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and reddit, to name a few. One of these emerging communities is that of the social activists, who have made it their duty to spread awareness about the different injustices around the world. Posts on the aforementioned websites have allowed for young people especially to have more of a general sense of knowledge about the world they live in.
Moreover, websites like petition.org have enabled those who feel passionately about certain causes to petition either for or against them. Because these websites can pretty much be used by anyone with uncontrolled Internet access regardless of where they are in the world, change can be made by anyone who wants to facilitate it just by signing their name. However, though signing petitions and spreading awareness seem like an easy solution to the problem of ignorance, sometimes these forms of communication are not enough to generate real, tangible change.
In his essay “Small Change” that was published in The New Yorker, author Malcolm Gladwell explains that “social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires.” This means that people are so quick to supposedly “help” a cause by signing petitions and instantaneously sharing videos and blog posts on Facebook because of the lack of energy and time required to do so. Gladwell highlights that in order to use social media effectively to get a group of people to do something, you need to “not ask much of them.”
The fact is, people really do want to make a change, but with the dozens of posts that they come across on these social media sites per day, they don’t have the means to genuinely support each one with their full attention. Thus, if you’re trying to get someone to help you pass out pamphlets or organize an informational booth about your cause at a festival, you probably won’t have much luck finding them on crowded Facebook pages or under heavily tweeted hashtags. These are the places where you can spread information about the topics you are most passionate about, but if you want to people to double-take and really notice the work you are doing, you’re going to need a physical movement that you can create with the people in your schools, workplaces, or community centers.
This year in Baltimore, people used social media to teach the world about what happened to Freddie Gray. In order to make the media, and thus, the country, really care for more than a few minutes though–and larger than that, in order to get what they believed was real justice for him and for his family–people knew they would have to get together to protest in real life, not just virtually. Using social media is helpful, but it is essential to also create a physical movement if you really want to help a cause that you’re passionate about.
See Malcolm Gladwell’s essay: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/10/04/small-change-malcolm-gladwell
NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: Working for change both virtually online and in person, does involve complexities with many opinions, and can result in both positive and negative results, as can be seen in Baltimore and around the world. Thank you to all those that care, that struggle to see all sides of an issue, go beyond simple answers, respect those that disagree with you, and work for a better world for all in a positive way using methods appropriate to your circumstances.