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The Growth and History of Social Media Movements

This week’s readings have given me a greater insight into the history of activism and how movements were created before digital technology. 

One of the readings “Small Change”, an article written by The New Yorker, talks about the differences between traditional activism and modern activism with the use of social media. It opened my eyes to how much detail and planning traditional activists had to go into to create a movement. Without the use of modern technology, they had to rely upon face to face meetings. This saw a trend with who joined a campaign because without social media they could only rely on word of mouth from people they were close to, such as friends and family. However, activism today works in a completely different way. The majority of movements that we hear about today are from what we read and see on social media. The information we find out about current movements tends to not come from our friends and family. This has created the idea that our greatest source of new ideas and information comes from people we don’t even know.

Social media has allowed activism and movements to transform into a completely new level. Pages like Facebook and Twitter have helped activists overcome censorship, plan protests, organize logistics, and spread information easily to a wide audience. This could never have happened twenty years ago. Not only is social media important to activists but for anyone around the world watching to understand what is going on. 

What I found most interesting when reading “Twitter and Tear Gas”, was learning about the strengths and weaknesses of modern movements engaged by social media compared to traditional activism. It never occurred to me that there could be a disadvantage to movements used by digital technology. Activists in the 1990s relied on email to communicate with one another, which meant there was no visual information such as pictures as we see today. The groups formed focused on participation and horizontalism, which created strong cultural ties between the members involved. This built the foundation to organization depth and experience of tools and culture for collective decision making, strategic and long-term action. 

Protests developed by technology rely heavily on digital tools for organizing and publicity which can make the process difficult. Without a formal leader, task groups, and a close bond between participants it can lack the fluidity of traditional activism. This can cause conflict as everyone has their own individual thoughts and expressions. Due to these challenges, it can sometimes stop movements from being able to carry on in the long term.

On the other hand, digital technology has been a huge driving force for activism. Digital networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have brought issues to the front of society and increased social media engagement among citizens. Technology has been vital for modern social movements to reimagine and change the way that protests are carried out.

Without social media, I would not know about the Environmental Movement, which on social media can be known as #EarthDay. Through activists I have learned more about this movement and the need for environmental change in the world today. I have chosen to focus on and research this movement further during the semester.

Photo by Thomas Lipke on Unsplash

3 thoughts on “The Growth and History of Social Media Movements

  1. Hey Alice! I agree that technology has allowed us to take a different approach to activism in today’s society. The ability to reach a large audience so quickly through the click of a button has allowed social media activism to reach the masses it has today. I agree that social media has even allowed those who are not immediately effected still see what’s happening in the world. No one has an excuse to turn a blind eye to social issues in today’s world. You’re basically forced to see movements and activists appear on your timeline. There will always be at least one mutual follower/following you have that will repost/retweet something that has to do with theb current world’s social issues. It depends on how you react to seeing that post and what you do with it, that says whether you’re ignorant to what’s going on or you’re if going to be apart of the movement.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Alice! It’s amazing and crazy to think how much technology has evolved to the point that we use it for activism today. We find out of different movements and activists protests in a matter of minutes due to social media. Even if you aren’t directly affected by the different situations happening in the country or world, it is because of social media that we learn of this. Like you with the Environmental Movement (#EarthDay), I also learned more on the BLM movement through social media. There are so many different resources at our fingertips that are shared through different posts or stories that can help you learn more about the issues happening today. I can definitely agree that social media has grown in the past years and has in turn, helped spread a variety of movements.
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  3. It’s interesting that you point out how traditional activism relied on face to face meetings whereas social media activism has allowed an entirely different means of communication for activist movements. We don’t have to rely on knowing someone in the movement in our immediate circle to have access to participate in it or learn information. That is all available online and it has become a great tool especially in the current pandemic when social distancing measures are strictly in place. It allows activist movements to continue to thrive even when most of us are stuck at home. Many of the movements that are so prevalent today, like Black Lives Matter may not have gained so much traction during the pandemic had it not been for the valuable tool social media has become. (132)


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