The Expansion of Activism through Digital Spaces
Throughout the past few decades, the effects of social media have been widely felt throughout so many different areas or our lives. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, social media was used so often for connecting with others, sharing vital news information and for exploring and learning about various topics and communities. After the stay-at-home orders have been put into place, the importance and dependence on social media and technology has become even more evident. With this dependence, one area of our lives that has been drastically affected by social media and the internet has been activism, politics and discussions around civil rights for all people. Following the murder of George Floyd, it was clear to see how social media could act as such a powerful and thought-provoking forum to coordinate protesting in person and act as a facilitator for many different people to express their opinions and grief surrounding the situation. Even on my own personal media feed, I would have friends and families sharing conflicting thoughts on George Floyd’s murder with some downplaying the seriousness of his murder and others sharing photos of themselves protesting against police brutality in the many marches held in Minneapolis last summer. So many of my friends on social media would also share valuable resources and organizations used to fight against implicit bias and institutionalized racism. My concept of activism had shifted during this time and was expanded by how instrumental and important social media was sharing information and for coordinating in-person events. I began to see the ways in which digital activism was the extension of its in-person counterparts and looked deeply at how important it can be.
One of the most important aspects of social media has been the ways in which it has been used to coordinate protests throughout the United States. For me personally, the months following George Floyd’s murder, I could easily open my Facebook page and look at the events near me. Having lived 30 minutes away from Minneapolis during this time, I was able to open the “Events Near Me” tab on my Facebook to see an enormous amount of protests across multiple neighborhoods run by multiple organizations. Along with this, Twitter was often used by protest organizers and attendees to update anyone about where the protest was at any given moment as well as any arrest made during the protests. While social media was influential for circulating vital information to make large-scale protests possible, it also allowed for those who could not physically join in on the protests to have a space to support the messages behind each of the protests.
There are various reasons that so many people could not physically join in on the protests. For one, there are those who are not able to attend these protests as they may have work obligations during the times the protests are held, and others may not have had the means to actually travel to where the protests were being held. Another reason is that some may have a disability that makes it so they are not able to physically join the protests. Debarati Das writes in her article, “Why Digital Feminist Activism Is Real and Valid”, about how digital activism can help include those who are disabled into social movements and fights against ableist ideas of how activism can look. While she was applying this idea to feminist activism, it can be applied to activism in general. Oftentimes, online activism is called “Slacktivism”, implying that it is somehow a lazy attempt to support a social movement. This is just simply not the case as there are many people actively fighting against racism, sexism, homophobia and fighting for other social issues while online. For those who are physically not able to attend the in-person rallies and protests, it is implied that their online support does not matter, which is just not the case. In addition, online cash apps and websites have been instrumental in aiding with social activism, as it has enabled people from all over the world to donate to the various charities and organizations organizing the rallies. There are even ways to make it so even if you do not have the money to donate, you can still watch YouTube playlists where its ad revenue is used to donate to social justice organizations. If anything, online activism has been able to incorporate so many more people (regardless of age, gender, disability, socio-economic status, etc.) as it has allowed for support to be shown in so many more varied ways that still make an impact on in-person situations and life.