Like it or not, social media is entrenched in our society. What was once a simple way for friends to share photos and updates about their personal lives has become a tool for political and social change.
Two years ago, the Kony 2012 video campaign went viral on all channels of social media. The video demanded that Ugandan guerilla warfare leader Joseph Kony be brought to justice for turning African children into soldiers and sex slaves. Over 50 million people viewed the video — but critics claim that the message was overly simplistic.
Buzz about the video ended almost as swiftly as it began.
As of last March, President Obama had deployed 150 Special Operations personnel to search for Kony. It is unclear whether or not widespread attention was the cause for this action.
Social media activism is also used on a much smaller scale. As the November elections draw closer, many campaigns are active on Twitter and Facebook, which they use as a megaphone for spreading their messages.
On Sept. 4, gubernatorial underdog candidate Wendy Davis visited UTSA to appeal to student voters. Before Davis spoke, an organizer for her campaign stopped to take a selfie, which he hashtagged #GenWendy #GetRowdy #NoFilter.
Undoubtedly, this photo was taken to entice the millennial generation of voters — a target audience for many candidates.
Social media is an effective tool for garnering attention, but can it be used to effectively mobilize people?
Senior political science major Eddy Zerbe has worked for Mobilize, Organize, Vote, Empower (MOVE), a non-profit organization dedicated to voter registration and civic engagement.
He believes that social media can effectively be used as a tool for spreading information, however, “People are satisfied by retweeting or favoriting (a tweet) and don’t actually do anything to help a movement. (It’s) lazy activism.”
While mobilizing activists can be a challenge, social media can be an empowering tool for people whose voices were previously silenced.
According to the Pew Research Center, almost 90 percent of U.S. citizens actively use the Internet and 58 percent of people use smart phones. Of Internet users, an astounding 71 percent had a Facebook account in 2013 and 63 percent checked their Facebook daily.
Sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been an important tool for grassroots activists. Since the protests of Ferugson, Mo., Twitter has actively been used to coordinate protests and inform fellow members of the community.
Twitter has allowed anyone with a smart phone or Internet connection to voice his or her opinion unfiltered and without constraint to anyone who will listen.
Sure, social media activism has become a source of liberation for many, but users need to be wary of its limitations.
While these sites can more easily facilitate discourse, they can also be easy to become trapped in a cycle of superficial arguments that ignore deeper issues. After all, 140 characters or less is hardly enough when arguing about international conflict or gender discrimination.
If someone is sharing information or updates from a carefully crafted campaign, are they really expressing their opinion, or simply falling into an advertising trap?
In the last 10 years, politics have become increasingly polarized. If bipartisan agreement is to be reached and reform made, it’s time for people to start really talking to each other, rather than trying to get likes.
Ultimately, social media is what we make it. Each account is unique to its user.
Typing from the safety of a computer may seem easier than confronting someone in person, but the same rules of courtesy should be observed online, just as they would be in person.
Social media is a part of our lives, and isn’t going anywhere. As activism changes, we must remember that it takes more than a “like” to make change happen.