In today’s society, most individuals are strictly reliant on social media and television when it comes to receiving any new information or news. This has been a common behavior throughout the last few decades, but it could be considered extremely prominent in the 2000s. With such a drastic increase of access to the internet and availability of electronic devices that provide easy access to media, a rise in political activism through social media has inevitably occurred.
It can be seen that with the social movements of the 2000s, social media has had quite a positive and yet negative impact on how the movement results played out. This era of tweeting and updating statuses about the revolutions of the world can almost be compared to Gil Scott-Heron’s poem and song about the 1960s Black Power movements in the United States called, “This Revolution Will Not be Televised”. The slight difference is that in today’s time, one might change up the title to “The Revolution Will be Tweeted”. In America specifically, most media is not censored due to the first amendment and the country partaking in a democratic approach of life. To clarify, “Direct democracy is the opposite of the more common ‘representative democracy,’ under which the people elect representatives who are empowered to create laws and policies for them” (Longley, 2016). With prominent social media rhetoric, also known as simply using social media to persuade others to view and agree with different point of views, most politicians in the United States have successfully built and won their campaigns by strategically utilizing the power of the media. In theory, social media has become a colossal part of politicians’ campaign trails, the influence on individuals in terms of policies, social protests, and the lawmaking of society.
Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube have become part of diverse everyday life routines for individuals who have lived during the emergence of the Internet era to today’s time. Most of these technologies have the power to show users the world, whether in a biased view or not, through a click of a mouse or touchscreen. Due to their rapid sharing qualities, most political activists have took it upon themselves to use the power of social media towards their reforms and revolutions. A main criticism of this type of activism, mainly referring to Facebook group chats, activist pages, and choreographing protest events through the web, is that it is essentially an illusion. That by opening up a chat, sharing a picture, or joining a protest group online one is simply standing on the sidelines while feeling like they are part of the action. These individuals, however, feel like the use of social media is a means of mobilization for collective actions and goals within everyday lives and contemporary politics.
A more positive view of social media and politics can be observed through the rise of experienced activists on the worldwide web. The educated revolutionists start these so called “Facebook uproars” in order to state their personal side of the story, and in order to communicate with the world about issues that appeal to the working-class people of America; those who constantly get fed biased information on their televisions screens about issues that may be going on in their country or lawmaking processes. As stated in the novel Tweets in the Streets by Paulo Gerbaudo, with social media, “…tools allow for increasingly rapid communication, transaction costs of marketing their campaign are lower, and most obstacles for the collective actions are removed, new more efficient forms of coordination created”(2011). This is all due to easy access of Facebook and Instagram pages dedicated to the protests and activism. These pages and movements will then attract anyone that views them on their newsfeeds, and the visuals and the interviews shared within these groups will hit a nerve with most of the individuals who are not part of the wealthier one percent of America. Most of the movements will be followed due to the fact that they specifically target actual economic and political issues that apply to marginalized individuals, or due to viral photos and videos shared by large organizations and individuals with millions, or even billions, of followers on social media. These videos and images will depict why protesters are enraged. Such photos are referred to as “ad-busters. Most of them will satire or criticize something abnormal or controversial going on in the country.
Protesters will then share the debated videos and images and incite rebellion, criticism, but most of all awareness. These movements can actually be seen as a reflection of the occupy movements that were used across the world through social protests, such as the occupy movements of the 60s involving the African American sit-ins, except they take place online. Through these social media movements, individuals then feel that their identities and emotions will unify them and their goals, while raising awareness of the political conflicts in their world and what they want changed.
A major part of social media activism and its effect on contemporary politics is influenced by activists who might have a massive following on their social media platforms, as mentioned above. An instance of this can be seen through how politicians and the U.S. government have been reacting to the massive protests on the Dakota Access Pipeline this year. Due to celebrities such as Shailene Woodley getting involved within the protest and expressing her views on who the youth should vote for during the 2016 Presidential election, the protest had become even more viral across the globe. After her politically-based posts, a major increase in the amount of protesters occurred, and after her arrest at the site of the protest and the shared live video depicting it, a spike in the awareness of individuals across the globe occurred once more. In response to her posts going viral, she states “…it took me, a white non-native woman being arrested on Oct. 10th in North Dakota, on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, to bring this cause to many people’s attention”(Woodley, 2016). Afterwards, multiple other individuals with large platforms started protesting DAPL alongside her and encouraged the standing politicians to have a call to action and stop the DAPL. This can be referred back to Garbaudo’s quote from above in regards to easier access to coordination and choreography of the protest actions. The new media activism and its power had actually affected the way individuals who were first time voters chose their candidates during this protest and many other conferences that had been posted about by influential individuals online. Due to celebrities getting involved in politics on social media, such as Disney Channel star Rowan Blanchard who has a platform of 4.7 million followers at the age of 15, the youth was influenced drastically since they relentlessly read and observe what these celebrities post and discuss online. Ms. Blanchard is known for posting images that read “I stand with Planned Parenthood” in hand-drawn lettering, and making videos that link her audience with phone numbers of politicians and campaign websites in order to persuade her followers to vote in specific ways. With people like Woodley and Blanchard getting involved in organizations and public events that have to do with activism and contemporary politics, the coalition of protesters only receives more views and becomes more susceptible to the public eye. This proves that social media is significantly changing the way the youth, and the rest of the world, decide what laws they want and who they vote in to form them.
Since the celebrities’ media is a form of self-representation and happens to be viewed by millions across the globe, they are using it to educate others on present-day issues that inspire activism in real life and online. This education is actually key when protesting in general, since most individuals who decide to partake in these movements are not being educated enough on the subject before they join. Background knowledge on protesting peacefully and truly knowing where one stands is essential to a successful movement. An example of this not taking place can be seen with Hillary Clinton supporters who accidentally caused the death of a man when they took the occupy movement too far, and did not move out of the way of an ambulance while protesting. The paramedic driving the ambulance stated that he, “…had to drive 45 extra minutes around blocked roads” (2016). This type of behavior shows that people deeply care about the issues they are protesting about, but they often lack education and information within their protest and instead hurt the movement. An example of social media influencers who have partaken in such situations can also be seen through reality-TV star Caitlyn Jenner. She came out as transgender and expressed how the U.S. needs to reassess LGBTQ rights and how much more equality is needed in the country, but at the same time tried to sway her youth followers to vote for the Republican Presidential candidate and Vice President that believe in conversion therapy for gay individuals.
A quite common criticism of social media activism is that it is seen as being filled with biased sources. An example of this can be seen through Donald Trump, whose supporters have been known to aimlessly share articles from biased sources such as Christian based websites, or websites who mainly cover conservative and even white supremacist views rather than the whole spectrum. An article posted on a highly viewed conservative website describing disdain with protesters after the announcement of the President-elect Trump stated phrases such as, “Because of these protestors, a four year old child is fatherless” and “I bet these liberals responsible for blocking this man’s route to the hospital don’t even care they caused his death. Lock them up! They can share a jail cell with Hillary!” The word usage in most of these biased sources incite violence, disrespect, and hate towards opposing sides. Instead of stating that these protesters were uneducated and maybe should not have gone so far within the occupy movement, the author incited hate and divide within the readers of the post. Additionally, most of these websites do not provide citations or factual information and statistics. This can have a very negative effect on voters and who they support in politics and their governments. Besides specific websites and tweets, it can be argued that these social media networks themselves are completely biased or leaning in one direction. Facebook has been known and sued for issues regarding cookies and privacy of the users. Mainly, the issue of cookies is due to the fact that Facebook caters the user dashboard in accordance to what the user had been previously searching or liking. Therefore, users only get to see half the story of what is actually happening in the world, and therefore, cannot participate in activism that is not biased. Their actual newsfeeds are influenced by what they already search on their account, and they cannot develop or debate their ideas and activism purpose with the other sides that influence their politics. Facebook has also been known to fabricate and post stories during elections and sponsor them across users’ newsfeeds. President Obama has spoken nationally about social media sites partaking in this type of behavior, which only strengthens the point that one must be careful in joining activism that is solely based within social media websites.
Another criticism brought up about politics and social media is that the media can be non-inclusive. This means that if most movements and views are based on what one reads and finds shared on the internet, it does not include or involve the views of those who do not have easy access to the internet or portable electronic devices. Additionally, it excludes the elderly who are not as technologically savvy. Thus, social media might not entirely promote inclusivity even though most protests are centered around that subject. Lastly, an example of the power of marketing bias on social media can actually be seen through Senator John McCain’s use of social media during his campaign to get reelected in the state of Arizona. Not only did he appeal to young voters through websites like Facebook and Instagram, where he continuously advertised his internships and volunteer opportunities, but he also used his campaign funds and invested them into marketing himself and his website though all accessible media. His opponents were barely known or heard of in the state, and most first-time voters had only heard of John McCain due to his appearance on their newsfeeds, whether they approved it or not. This completely proves that new media influences politicians’ goals, careers, and actions, and how voter turnout can be bias due to forms of social media.
Finally, another controversial aspect of social media and its influence on contemporary politics, especially in regards to 2016, is that protesters and activists who partake in online and physical protests are referred to as “crybabies”. The newest-up view is that activism is not needed if a law or result is already set in place by politicians or the government. For example, Tomi Lahern, a 24 year old self-proclaimed news anchor with an enormous conservative media platform, constantly criticizes movements such as Black Lives Matter, and liberals who protest even though America is progressive in comparison to other countries.
Recently, she posted a controversial tweet stating that the world should, “Meet the new KKK, they call themselves Black Lives Matter but make no mistake, their goals are far from equality” (2016). During the 2016 campaign for Presidency, she urged voters to vote for Donald Trump and criticized Hillary supporters in extremely racist ways. She stated that mass protests did not exist after Obama won both terms as President because, “…Republicans lose with grace and second, most aren’t afforded time in the middle of a work week to congregate and throw fits…we have to WORK, we have to work so you can protest the man while benefiting from the entitlements the man afford you…” (Lahren, 2016). She then makes it a point to ensure this propaganda, that essentially states that all protesters are on welfare and lazy, goes viral on social media. After Trump got elected, protests arose against him such as they do with every U.S. election, regardless of which party wins. After Obama won his second term, Americans exercising their 1st amendment right to free speech and protests actually took it to extremist levels and had signs instigating that Obama should be lynched and African Americans should be killed. This proves that both parties can have extremists in terms of political opinions and protesting, so when a media pundit like Tomi Lahern sticks all protesters together in the same category, thereby influencing her viewers to do the same as she did with the BLM extremists, it actually can be considered quite ignorant and negative. Overall, in the U.S. a negative stigma of activism and protesting is taking place due to influence from individuals like Tomi. This stigma, in turn, enables those opposing protesting to delete, block, or cyberbully others who post or share ad busters and forms of media in relation to liberalism and activism. In turn, the political divide and one-way media bias fortifies in America.
Ultimately, social media has both strengthened and hurt political activism and campaigns across the globe. With the rapid sharing qualities of media, individuals are now exposed to leaks, graphic videos that could have otherwise been hidden, and different types of online debates in regards to their government and worldwide issues. Politicians have been jumping on the media bandwagon and relentlessly shared either logical or biased propaganda in order to maintain office positions or receive support in their political agendas. They have essentially taken over the media themselves in marketing their campaigns, thereby influencing first time voters and those with easy access to all forms of media, as it can be seen with Trump’s campaign. Due to the influence of celebrities and others with large social media platforms, campaigns across the world have been impacted in either negative or positive ways. Essentially, in today’s time, social media can be criticized for biased sources, hateful content, or uneducated protests, but it should also be acknowledged and appreciated in the sense of bringing global awareness to citizens across the world.