Social media activism proves temporary, needs further action

Mohammad Syed

Tragedies are occurring. Last week we had a major mass shooting and bombings in Paris, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Japan and suicide bombings in both Beirut and Baghdad.

To respond to such tragedies, people all over the world are uniting in a number of ways. Many stand in the form of hashtags. Many stand in the form of filtered profile pictures. Many stand in the form of signed petitions and long posts. Social media has slowly become the main platform for individuals to rise in protest and in solidarity. After all, social media is easy to engage in. If you have an opinion, then you can just type it up and post to it to your hundreds of followers and friends. Flooding a Twitter feed with hashtags creates awareness and emulates the effects of a protest.

The problem with using social media as a platform for activism is evident from the name of Facebook’s new profile picture feature. It’s temporary. Social media increases engagement in a particular issue, but it does so ephemerally. The Internet is an ever-changing system, so while viral humanitarian movements will have their time in the limelight, it’s going to be brief. The tragedies that occurred last week don’t end when Facebook changes the profile pictures back to normal, but many are going to forget such a tragedy because their only outlet is Facebook.

This isn’t the only problem. Social media also has the ability to take the burden of action off of an individual. By posting something on social media to show solidarity, individuals often feel content with their contribution to a movement. The Journal of Sociological Science revealed in a study that over one million people signed up for the Save Darfur movement on Facebook, but only 3000 donated to it. As The Guardian puts it, “Facebook conjured the illusion of activism rather than facilitating the real thing.”

Here’s the solution. In order to really make an impact on this world, we need to be active both online and offline. The only effect of posting something online is awareness; unfortunately tangible change doesn’t come solely through awareness. If we really care about a cause we need to put something of our own on the line. We need to be willing to donate our money, our time and our image. Social media activism only takes us so far.

Syed is a biochemistry freshman from Houston.