Week 8: Activism Online: Can it be effective?

Last week in EC&I 831, Alec discussed the topic of Social Media Activism. Throughout the week as I prepared for my blog post, I found myself constantly rethinking and challenging opinions that I have held for quite some time. I find this to be one of the most important topics I’ve wrote on, and it took me much longer (and several more rewrites,) than anticipated to finalize my thoughts into something I was happy with.

 As I’ve mentioned before, prior to starting my graduate work, my online presence was very limited. My undergraduate experience was filled with voices that cautioned pre-service teachers when it came to their presence online. We were often warned about how ‘the internet is forever,’ and to be cautious of what we post online, as a single post could prevent us from being hired, or worse, end a career. This resulted in me removing myself from most public online communities, and therefore my personal online activism has been quite reserved over much of my teaching career.

As I’ve began graduate studies, I’ve been enjoying being challenged, as my courses have been encouraging me to step outside my comfort zone. This class in particular has helped me recognize the platform I can have as an educator, particularly in online circles. I’ve come to realize that increasing my presence online will assist me not only in growing professionally, but in giving me a platform to support, and be a voice for social justice.

Can online social media activism be meaningful and worthwhile?

I believe that social media activism can absolutely be meaningful and worthwhile. Social media has the ability to unite unfathomably large groups of people in exceptionally short amounts of time. These groups have an overwhelming amount of power to sway public opinion. Campaigns such as Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, saw their reach expand exponentially through the use of social media. Real change was able to begin through these campaigns. Time was saved, money was raised, and discussions were able to begin on some of the ongoing atrocities in our society.

Although social media can be used in numerous effective ways in supporting activism, its strength worries me in at the same time. A 280-character tweet is certainly enough to start a conversation, but often is not enough to give true context. The speed at which an idea or statement can to virial is astonishing; slowing it’s spread or providing additional facts that modify the narrative can be next to impossible. When numerous users on Reddit were working on finding the suspects behind the Boston Marathon Bombing, they ended up accusing an innocent man of being one of the suspects.

While it is certainly my impression that most social activism stories go deservedly viral, the heartache that can be caused by a viral partial truth concerns me. This brings me back to thinking how important it is to teach critical thinking and information evaluation skills to our students. With how wide and accessible the web has become, these skills will assist our students in ensuring that they can contribute positively to every social media activism campaign they come across.

Is it possible to have productive conversations about social justice online?

I believe it is possible to have productive discussions about social justice online. Online discussions allow for a broad reach and variety of individuals to contribute knowledge and opinions to a discussion, social justice included. It’s my belief that the problem comes when those discussions are unable to make the transition into the real world. Being able to create discussion online is crucial to pulling attention to an issue, but the conversation cannot stop there. Continuing the conversation in person and taking it to our legislators is one way to ensure that these conversations work their way into creating real change in our society.

What is our responsibility as educators to model active citizenship online?

Growing up in the early years of the internet, one could argue that a large portion of the population was able to keep their online and public lives fairly separated. In today’s age of hyperconnectivity we must realize that this gap, if there still is one, is narrowing by the day. Our online world is an extension of the real world, and our attitudes, lifestyle, and messages, should remain consistent between them. No longer is it acceptable to remain quiet, or live ‘separate lives,’ in these two worlds. It is evident that today’s society requires individuals that will speak out for the greater good, in person and online.

These themes should follow us as educators. I’ve began to realize that the privilege I have, and the responsibilities that go along with it. Being in a respected career field, with the ability to help shape thoughts and encourage critical thinking, allows me a platform that I have the responsibility to use. Taking a neutral stance on social justice issues is no longer good enough. Educators that take a neutral stance (whether they intend to or not,) are hindering progress towards meaningful change. Neutrality does nothing to deconstruct current systems of oppression, allowing them to remain commonplace in our society. It is my opinion that educators, myself included, need to move beyond being a Personally Responsible Citizen, and do their best to take steps towards becoming more Justice Oriented.

I’m going to wrap this blog post up with two quotes that I’ve found while doing some reading this week. I find both to summarize my shift in thinking when when it comes to being ‘neutral’ online.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” (Misattributed to Edmund Burke, but an impactful quote nonetheless.)

“It is okay to be where you are, it is not okay to stay there.” – Brian Aspinall (Read it for the first time on my good friend Curtis’ blog, and have loved it ever since.)

3 thoughts on “Week 8: Activism Online: Can it be effective?

  1. Colton,

    This is an incredibly thoughtful post and I found myself going, “ME TOO” throughout my reading. I had the same experience in my undergraduate studies in terms of having an online presence. I was completely terrified and just avoided posting anything meaningful or social justice oriented. To be honest, I’m still a little stuck in that “personally responsible” category, as this is nearly ten years of trying to remain as neutral as possible. However, like you mentioned, silence and neutrality is where evil thrives.

    Social media is an incredible tool when it comes to sharing information to large amounts of people in a short amount of time. However, this is two-fold and it can unravel just as quickly as it united people for a cause. I appreciate that you highlight the importance of media literacy and detecting misinformation. The balance between online activism and “in person” activism is an important one to establish. As helpful as social media can be, tangible action is still necessary!

    Great points made in this post! Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Colton – I feel as though you raise some super important points. I particularly appreciate the idea around Twitter and whether or not 280 characters is enough to really get across the information that we are intending to get across. Like you said if the intent is to start a conversation that that is great and 280 characters can go along way. but many people on Twitter are trying to get across an idea or a notion without any of the back story that we may need in order to fulling understand the tweet.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Similar to the comments above, I too felt scared by the implications that social media has on a preservice teacher. But upon reflection, it now worries me that so many people are feeling one way and not enough is happening at the university to teach preservice teachers how to have a professional online presence. These graduate classes have been great to help educate teachers around the different platforms and way to use it in a positive way, however, I am concerned this isn’t being share with undergraduate students.


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