Does #activism make a difference or does it just turn issues into viral trends?


Zoe Davis, Editor-in-chief

Think of any viral video, meme or trend on social media. Where does it comes from? Tweets and posts start to appear on your feed as your friends start to tweet and comment. You are expected to join in because, why not? It’s viral.

Every day it seems like a new trend arises on social media, causing everyone to share, retweet, like, and favorite, and then forget as time goes on. The trends garner attention on news shows like “Good Morning America” and then disappear, leaving everyone to wonder what happened to them. This seems to be a pattern.

#activism employs the same techniques as any viral trend. Social media is used to raise awareness for a cause or issue in the same way that Grumpy Cat videos are shared; retweets, likes and favorites.

During the Arab Spring of 2011, social media was used to fuel protests. The number of tweets in Egypt surrounding the week of president Hosni Mubarak’s resignation increased from just over 2,000 tweets a day to more than 200,000. Protesters posted videos featuring political commentary to YouTube, and the top 23 videos received more than 5 million views. Protests weren’t confined to social media, but lead to an entire regional movement.

Awareness is good. It helps people think outside of their mundane rut of self-pity and their own #firstworldproblems. However, am I really helping someone with cancer if I simply tweet #cancersucks, and then go on with my life?

This was the major criticism of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, the viral movement to raise money for ALS, a degenerative nerve disease that often ends in death. Although people filmed themselves dumping ice on their heads and awareness was raised, what good does posting a video do?

The ice bucket challenge raised more than 110 million dollars for ALS research, but getting showered with ice water and posting the video did not raise the money. Donating did. The videos helped to teach people about ALS, many whom had likely never heard about it. This is what prompted many to donate, and got many celebrities on board with the cause.

There comes a point where awareness is not enough. Instead of tweeting about a problem, we should do our part to solve it. Whether it is donating our money or time, we must create solutions to the issues we are passionate about. Awareness is the first step, but it can’t be the only step. Social media and #activism makes it easy to become aware and make others aware of problems in the world. We can take this awareness and use it to make a real difference.