Social Media As A Tool For Social Justice

In 2015, the popularity of social media is abundantly clear. Social media is entertaining, interactive, and accessible with the touch of a button. It has given rise to newer, faster ways of communication and the spread of information through facets such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as other constantly updating blog-like sites. Within social media however, we have also seen a rise in social justice discussions and virtual activist movements, demonstrated by movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, #YesAllWomen, #BringBackOurGirls, and many more, all issues termed and popularized by the tool of ‘hash-tagging’ that originated on Twitter.

Some examples on Twitter of the #YesAllWomen being used to discuss issues women today face in our society.
Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States, showing her support for the movement #BringBackOurGirls.
Demonstrators outside Boston supporting the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

The power of social media lies in its unparalleled augmentation of the spread of information, outshining even news networks at times, accuracy aside. If an event occurs somewhere, it’s bound to have been recorded in some form of social media at one point, as nowadays the majority of people carry some form of cellphone, laptop, or tablet on them. Documenting events has moved on from relying simply on word of mouth, seeing something on the news, or reading the paper. Now we can both access and spread information at the click of a button, allowing us to share anything with the masses almost instantaneously. One can only imagine how such an ability would have shaped the past if it had been available sooner. Imagine if twitter had been around during JFK’s assassination and someone in the crowd had been live-tweeting it? Or imagine if something as everyday as instant private messaging had been available to aid escaped slaves find the Underground Railroad? History may have been vastly different had social media been around sooner.

Social justice today is nearly intertwined with social media. Social justice itself is about raising awareness and making a difference. The power social media provides to rapidly spread information only serves to fan the flames of social justice as activist movements have quickly taken to popular sites like Facebook and Twitter to spread awareness and look for support. The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and the footage taken of his body left lying on the ground for four hours was found on social media far quicker then on any news channels.

A“die-in” staged at Stanford University on January 15th, 2015.

It was soon used by social justice advocates to protest his death by lying down in public places, calling the action a “Die-In,” playing on a form of protest called sit-ins. In the same few months, the controversial video of Eric Garner’s death launched a full investigation of the NYPD officers involved in the video and the quote heard in the video, “I can’t breathe,” quickly became a trending hashtag on Twitter. These two events and the attention then gained through social media helped launch the Black Lives Matter movement that is currently so large, democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have both taken time address it and its leaders.

2016 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders standing aside as Black Lives Matter protestors take control of the stage.

There are a vast number of other current events that have grown exponentially through the use of social media, such as Egypt’s revolution and disaster relief for Haiti after the last earthquake. Social media helped to aid both of these movements and many others and going off what has occurred so far through its use, it will continue to be a powerful tool in social justice movements. In fact, by looking at its use so- far, social media could possibly be revolutionizing social justice as we know it. Historians may look back and mark these social media-driven movements as the turning point of social justice in our history. Only time will tell.

Like this article? Interested in hearing more on this topic? If so, check out this compelling TEDx talk, “Social Networking for Social Justice,” by James DeBoar.

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