The Evolution of Online Advocacy

In the surreal world of social media, advocacy has evolved in many different ways. But has the evolution of online advocacy actually increased the capability of individuals to bring about change?

Some people view online activism as a useless endeavor. They think that sharing a meme, hitting the like button, or using a trending hashtag isn’t actually doing anything substantial.

There has even been a word added to the ever expanding lexicon of the online community for certain types of advocacy which take place on the internet, and it clearly has a negative connotation; Slacktivism.

slacktivism

Unicef has even criticized slacktivist behavior with the following advertisements.

uni920_twittergraphic_followfeed_fa

unicefad_opt

However, not all activism which takes place online should be described as slacktivism.

There are well organized and active advocacy groups which use social media sites to spread awareness and to carry out fundraising campaigns.

Is there anyone who didn’t hear about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge? It was perhaps the most successful social media campaign ever devised.

Not only did it inspire normal people, athletes, celebrities, business leaders, and even the former President of the United States to upload videos of themselves having ice water dumped on their heads, but according to the ALS Association’s website, it also raised a lot of money, over TWO HUNDRED AND TWENTY MILLION DOLLARS worldwide!

bush

And is there anyone who doesn’t remember the half hour documentary film and youtube sensation KONY2012? It was perhaps the most viral video of all time. It had over ONE HUNDRED MILLION views within six days of being posted online and raised over NINETEEN MILLION DOLLARS!

In April, 2014, the top trending hashtag on twitter was #BringBackOurGirls. It was started in Nigeria after the terrorist group Boko Haram attacked a secondary school and kidnapped almost THREE HUNDRED girls between the ages of fifteen and eighteen. The hashtag was used over ONE MILLION times in the first three weeks and over THREE MILLION times to date.

MichelleObamaBringBackOurGirls

However, more than TWO HUNDRED of those girls are still missing. Joseph Kony is still waging war in Uganda and forcing children to become soldiers in the LRA. And while ALS research has received a lot of funding, there is still no cure.

So has online advocacy actually increased the capability of individuals to bring about change?

There are websites such as Change.org whose sole purpose is to provide a platform for online petitions. The United States government even provides an online forum for directly petitioning the President through the Whitehouse.gov website.

Almost all of the petitions on these sites show a deeply held desire to bring about beneficial change in society. But some of them seem to stretch the idea of what constitutes a beneficial change.

A petition on Change.org called for Jay-Z and Beyonce to comb their daughters hair. It gathered over FIVE THOUSAND signatures.

A petition on Whitehouse.gov called for the deportation of Justin Bieber. It gained over TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND signatures.

140123130813-justin-bieber-court-0123-story-top

Concerning the petition to deport Justin Beiber, the White House website responded with, “Sorry to disappoint, but we won’t be commenting on this one.”

And Beyonce seemed to be responding to the petition to comb her daughter’s hair in the lyrics of Formation, her most recent song, “I like my baby heir with baby hair and afros.”

So has online advocacy actually increased the capability of individuals to bring about change?

There may be a lot of people who are advocating for the wrong things, or are half-heartedly advocating for the right things. But that doesn’t diminish the beneficial effects of certain types of online advocacy.

It makes a difference, even if it only increases awareness. Because being aware of an issue is the fist step in solving it.

And being aware that there are other people like you, of the fact that you are not alone in the world, can be the difference between life and death.

In 2011, the National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that FOURTY ONE PERCENT of transgender and gender nonconforming Americans had attempted suicide.

I wonder how many of them felt like they were all alone, like there was no one else who could understand what they were going through.

Online advocacy can reach anyone who has internet access regardless of how isolated they may be in the physical world. It can help prevent tragedies from happening.

But it can also cause controversy.

disobey

Hacktivism is the practice of gaining unauthorized access to a computer system and carrying out various disruptive actions as a means of achieving political or social goals, according to its Dictionary.com definition.

The Anonymous hacking collective is perhaps the most infamous group of online hacktivists. They have targeted the KKK, ISIS, the Westboro Baptist Church, the Church of Scientology, security contractors, local police departments, the CIA, and various other governmental agencies in the US, Israel, Tunisia, and Uganda.

There have been numerous arrests of individuals involved in cyber attacks on behalf of Anonymous. But since it is a non-centralized international organization, it is almost unstoppable.

ab8bcc377f2a5a47bdcd37be293881cf

For better or worse, society now has access to an extremely diverse set of opinions online. There are all sorts of online advocacy with all sorts of different intentions and tactics.

There are blogs on almost everything under the sun, and even blogs on things which only exist in the shadows.

A lot of bloggers are trying to bring about beneficial change to society. But there are others which exist in the dark corners of the internet and advocate for horrible things like anorexia, rape, white supremacy, and even mass murder.

If you don’t believe me just do a google search for Praying to Ana, Roosh V, Stormfront, or the social media presence of ISIS. Although, actually viewing a blog ran by ISIS might put you on an FBI watch list so be careful with that.

I think that this surreal world of ours is a complicated place. Social media has made us more interconnected than ever before, but it has also made some of us feel alienated.

So is online advocacy actually beneficial? If you think that it is or isn’t, comment on this blog or create one of your own.

Advertisements