Updated: May 7, 2019
“What starts as a small frustration leads into an entire movement.”
The S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and the School of Information Studies (iSchool) hosted “Activism in the Digital Age,” a seminar led by assistant professor and panelists Dwight DeWerth-Pallmeyer, Biko Mandela Gray and Dr. Tia C. M. Tyree. Throughout the seminar, each panelist discussed how they believe social media has the biggest voice in activism to date.
Gray, who spoke from a philosophical background, focused on social media’s anonymity and the negativity that can be brought to a wide audience from those who hide behind the computer screen. Hurtful words can be shared online and often times users unfollow, block, or hide accounts who post opposing views, but Gray says doing this is rejecting the intended use of social media. The web was made to connect people and offer a platform to engage with those who they wouldn’t necessarily be in close proximity to. By silencing accounts, we advocate for social media to be used shallowly.
This is not to say that social media isn’t useful for giving a voice to the voiceless. Many users post online because they don’t have other mediums to communicate their opinions on, or they want to reach a wider range of people and know that a social network will attract this.
Using platforms for their intended purposes lead to activism, and Dr. Tyree encourages all users to remember this. On a daily basis the social sphere uses hashtags to communicate messages and engage users. In the digital age, “hashtag activism” is used more than any other activism method and has proven to be quite effective.
In February 2018, a day after seventeen students and staff members were killed by a former student at Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, student Cameron Kasky took action by posting #NeverAgain to Facebook. Kasky decided something needed to change and within three days of posting the hashtag, he gained over 35,000 supportive followers. The effective hashtag attracted national media attention and encouraged Kasky and his classmates to arrange a nationwide protest, March for Our Lives, which was held on March 24, 2018, and involved millions of people, nationally and internationally. #NeverAgain started small and became one of the largest protests in gun control legislation history.
Dr. Tyree said it best during the seminar, “It doesn’t matter what the next movement is— what matters is who has the heart to start it.” With social media giving us complete access to the global community at our finger tips, we are in control of how the world responds to injustices. As members of the twenty-first century, we must ask ourselves: With a simple hashtag, will I be the one to change the world?