Concept Experience #8 – Class commentary on “How Slacktivists Can Change the World”

One comment that made me think was Jaffey’s because she pointed out something I hadn’t thought about after reading Justin’s essay: “I agree that social media is a great platform to speak out your own voice, but I don’t think that you voice will be heard ALL ROUND THE WORLD. At least not in China.” Perhaps Justin didn’t literally mean “the whole world” would be changed by social media activism, but Jaffey’s comment highlights that we certainly cannot forget that the Western World IS NOT the whole world. The implications for making this assumption are pointed out by Jaffey again, who says that there are millions of people in the world who don’t know what feminism is, either because they don’t have access to the Internet or because their access is filtered by the government, such as in China. I like comments such as Jaffey’s because they pop me out of this bubble that we are making great change and the world will be an awesome place soon, because frankly it is not. It’s easy to overestimate our abilities to foster social change when we have had some good results in our country lately, but as Jaffey points out, the situation is definitely not the same in other parts of the world and we need to be aware of that as well.

There are three key concepts in Justin’s essay, which is written in response to Malcolm Gladwell’s criticism of online activism. Gladwell says that online activism is lazy, inefficient and in no means comparable to protests that brought social changes such as the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Justin debunks Gladwell’s idea with evidence supporting these three concepts:

  • Key Concept #1: Social media is an effective and useful tool for organizing offline protests and demonstrations, as well as for making petitions popular and bringing in more signatures. Justin provides the examples of the SlutWalk in Toronto, which was organized entirely online, and the Twitter campaign NoMorePage3, which aimed to stop the British tabloid The Sun from printing pictures of topless women.

 

  • Key Concept #2: The popularity of social media means that activists are not constrained by geography anymore. With the Internet, people from around the world can fight for a cause without ever needing to leave their houses. If it wasn’t for online organization, some issues would never be known to millions of people. Another important point Justin makes is that the format of social media venues such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr allows for those who haven’t heard about a given cause to learn about it. With likes, shares and reblogs more people are made aware of issues they had no clue about. Of course, Justin is the perfect example for this argument because, before he joined Tumblr, he had no idea what feminism was, but through posts from his friends and the people he followed he became aware of this issue and now considers himself a feminist.

 

  • Key Concept #3Social media is virtually public and free, not controlled like traditional means of communication (such as broadcast TV). This means that anyone and everyone can sign up for an account on a social media website and start making themselves heard. People who were often marginalized and ignored, not part of the “main discourse” seen in traditional media can now change the narrative to focus it on themselves. Their voices are not tuned out or filtered in social media. Another important aspect of social media is that it allows for anonymity. Survivors of sexual assault, for example, can share their experiences, as well as receive and give support, without having to share their identities if they so wish.

With these clear, evidence-supported arguments Justin shows that online activism is nothing but lazy and inefficient, but rather a crucial tool in bringing about social change in our country.

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