One of the best things about the Internet is its ability to bring people together, allowing them to work towards creating a better world.
Life sucks, sometimes. Life is difficult, messy, bruising, and sometimes downright awful. The Internet reflects that, sometimes. The anonymity and seemingly unlimited freedom appeals to some people’s darker sides. I wasn’t raised on the Internet, like the generations who came after me were and will be, but I’ve been around long enough to watch mob-like bullying campaigns, harassment, and general ugliness. For all of our potential, humans can be super crummy.
But for all that nastiness — or maybe as a direct counter to it — people (youth especially) are mobilizing to make life a little less so.
Not everyone – especially teenagers and other young people – has the ability to attend a rally or protest; school, parents, work, the inability to drive, and other factors can interfere. Even as a college student, I’m tied to one place. And some people just don’t want to get out into the streets. That doesn’t mean they have to remain on the sidelines, however.
Digital activism is how many folks, youth included, can participate in social change. Sharing articles, composing tweets, making YouTube videos, donating to causes and campaigns — all of these, and more, are options and tools that digital activists use to motivate and mobilize each other and their societies.
The concerns about digital activism are valid — it’s a bit of a stretch to state that liking a Facebook post is really going to get that kid a kidney, unfortunately. I found this quote from Nancy Lublin’s article, “Slactivism: Helping Humanity With the Click of a Mouse” to provide an excellent summary of digital activism’s pitfalls, and the severity of them:
At its worst and least effective, slacktivism isn’t much different from a poetry reading or a bra burning
It’s always good to be self-aware, and examining one’s strategies to be effective in mobilizing and motivating is a part of activism, digital or not. I’ve been at a good number of poetry readings in my time; there certainly were no movements launched there, but that’s not the goal. Often, its about sustaining momentum, creating discussions, and drawing inactive people in.
Digital activism’s strength is the vast but inter-connected nature of the digital landscape; the plethora of mediums amplifies awareness and discussion, and movements can spread like wildfire. And people – especially young people – aren’t just reblogging or retweeting and calling it a day. They’re taking what they’ve learned and they’re sharing it with their classrooms, their peers, their worlds. They’ll be teaching it to their children.
I’ve participated a time or two in digital activism; I’ve signed and shared a few whitehouse.gov petitions in my time. I put in effort towards maintaining Net Neutrality, and currently I’m a voice for LGBTQ+ issues. And I’ve found that just by even talking about issues with people, that by just speaking and listening, I’ve been able to teach and to learn and to make connections.
One of the things I didn’t think about as digital activism before this class is the positivity movement – a movement which most of the Teen Activist Shorty Awards focused on. Anti-bullying campaigns and suicide awareness projects are familiar, but I didn’t consciously consider that by taking the time to share a kind or encouraging message, that that is a type of digital activism.
All in all, digital activism harnesses the power of the web and the power of young people’s energy — their awakenings to the world as it is and what they can change about it — and seeks to make the world a little better. The Internet is probably one of the most powerful tools humanity has ever created, and the activism that is birthed and sustained here has the potential to be just as powerful.