How Social Media Has Helped Activism

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The action surrounding the tragic death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of a neighborhood watchman in a Florida suburb last February has grown in the last couple of weeks. Thanks in part to social media chatter and a petition calling for the arrest of George Zimmerman—the security guard who killed Martin—it has been part of the national consciousness since. The involvement of social media has prompted people from other parts of the country to become even more involved instantly without the large costs and manpower of a traditional publicity campaign. While some older people long for the days of when youth had a passionate zeal for activism a la anti-Vietnam War and decry this era of what they call “slacktivism,” new media has evolved activist movements—whether it’s Trayvon Martin, KONY 2012 or the Occupy Movement—in many ways and here are three reasons that it has changed it:

Watching It Unfold

One of the reasons the Occupy movement has blown up is because of its openness to its supporters and to the rest of the world. Consequently, many Occupy movements worldwide have dedicated teams of bloggers, social media managers and video producers to capture and bring the issues forward to a wide audience. The protest has become more of an interactive experience with hashtags, Facebook posts and livestream of demonstrations. Although the mainstream media has covered the Occupy movement extensively since the first protesters arrived at Zucotti Park last September, the impact of social media could not be underestimated.

Instant Dissemination

Since the calls for George Zimmerman’s arrest has surfaced, more than 1.5 million people signed a petition asking Florida’s Attorney General, the local district attorney and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate Martin’s death. An overwhelming number of social media conversations and the viral spread of the tragic case prompted the strong support for the movement to get justice for the unarmed young man. Not only did social media push the Trayvon Martin case further into the consciousness of America, it also sparked movements in support of the family in many cities nationwide. With the tools of Facebook, Twitter and other forms of new media, calls for action are louder and stronger than ever.

Everyone Can Listen In

The goal of getting everyone involved or aware of a cause has been faster than ever thanks to social media. Although years of dictatorships throughout the Middle East took its toll on the oppressed in last year’s Arab Spring, the movement would have to thank social media for spawning popular support. The governments of countries such as Tunisia and Egypt had much control over traditional media—television, radio and newspapers—but failed to quell the demand for the governments’ overthrow because the rest of the world can read what’s going via Facebook and Twitter if traditional news is unable to cover the events. Not only did the protesters help organize supporters and disseminate information via social media that would eventually depose Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak out of office, they brought activism to a new level.