In his article, “Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted” Malcom Gladwell talks about the power of social media and how it has reinvented social activism in its ability to mobilize large groups of people in support of a particular cause. Gladwell talks about how political activism in the past heavily relied on radio, newspapers, television, and word of mouth to gain public attention. While this method was rather slow in comparison to now, what it lacked in speed it certainly made up for in effectiveness in terms of accomplishing what it set out to accomplish. Nowadays, ordinary citizens have used the tools of social media to participate in political activism. Mobile media allows for people to get on-the-go, up to the minute updates of what’s happening in the world.
Although some have argued that having so many “acquaintances” (people you barely know in real life) on social media sites like Facebook and twitter have weakened relational ties, Gladwell remarks that “Our acquaintances—not our friends—are our greatest source of new ideas and information.” One major way social media garners attention is through the act of “sharing” and “liking”. There have been several occasions where I would scroll through Facebook and see a story shared by one of my Facebook “friends” that I would have otherwise overlooked. Another method of activism is the act of changing one’s profile picture in support of one particular cause. A few years ago, users changed their profile pictures to an image of a pink equal sign with a red background in support of marriage equality. Charles Bentley, who wrote an article on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation website referred to this as “Pictivism”, which can be very successful when used correctly. Bentley notes that Pictivism is a powerful tool for administering a call to action because, “your profile picture is similar to the top fold of a newspaper – it’s often the first thing your followers see and interact with on Facebook.” This simple tactic is just one of the tools used for modern political action via the internet. It’s effective because it doesn’t require much from the part of the user. The campaign doesn’t ask for people to take the streets and protest; people can “protest” in the comforts of their own home. While this kind of activism is effective in bringing attention to a cause quickly, critics argue that “slactivism” is just a lazy way for people to participate without actually participating. More importantly, it isn’t as effective in actually creating change if people don’t break that “digital wall”. As Gladwell puts it, social media has created an increase in moral outrage and decrease in moral action. So what good is using social media for political activism if it doesn’t accomplish what it seeks to?
For more information on “Pictivism”: http://www.impatientoptimists.org/Posts/2013/03/Pictivism-Did-You-Change-Your-Facebook-Pic-to-Red-This-Week