Social Media- Virtual Individualism or Hierarchical Change?

As a participant in the academic community, I consider myself knowledgeable about social movements. I am a junior at in the Walter A. Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. After attending my first class curriculum on Social Media and Social Movements, I realized my assumptions about movements could be best described as naïve, popular understanding. I got to wondering why some efforts attract global publicity while other seemingly similar groups whittle away into the forgotten depths of the internet. Maybe the failed movements did not have the same level of support as the successful ones? After all, social media functions like a leaderless democracy giving an equal voice to anyone right? In theory- right. In practice- wrong. My goal is to share my social movements in social media learning journey through posts on this blog. Citations and links will be at the end of each post.

Media platforms are deceiving in the way they are open to all, but successful social media movements take immense planning and organization. Facebook and Twitter market themselves as stages for individual liberation and freedom of speech. Jen Schradie, a Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley, explains social media’s false sense of the Silicon Valley Ideology that “privileges the individual in exercising freedom of expression disconnected from hierarchical structural positions” (Schradie). Social movements compete for support and exposure as political change is slow and difficult to conduct. Thus, there is a hierarchical structure of organization that inherently establishes for a movement to be successful.

How are different causes supposed to conduct change at the same time if they are competing against each other? Manuel Pastor, a Professor of American Studies & Ethnicity at USC, addresses the competitive aspect of change in a talk titled “How Do We Build Movements Based On Visions and Values” (Pastor). His answer to this question involves building a exchange environment based on visions and values instead of interests and transactions. Put simply, the answer is intersecting support and engagement.

Gaining public momentum brings power to a movement. Social movements require more than just twitter hashtags and handles. They require a level of engagement that takes organization to develop and sustain. Collective efforts may be hard to initiate. Organizational action will be required to generate political change. The acknowledgement of this tactic could be the difference between movements actually making their mark or fading away into the history tab on the top of many browsers.

The study of social movements in social media is a young concept of study that is not going away. The technology era is heavily upon us with new advancements constantly changing the virtual environment. I am excited to explore the ways social media affects social movements and change- vice versa. A greater understanding of changes in technology and social media platforms will be crucial for social movements, both big and small, to thrive and create change.

Works Cited

Pastor, Manuel, “How Do We Build Movements Based On Vision and Values?” Talk at Bioneers

Summit. LinkTV, 2015 (video).

Schradie, Jen, “Bringing the Organization Back In: Social Media and Social Movements.”

Berkeley Journal of Sociology, November 3, 2014.