Social Media Activism

During my time in university, I was constantly bombarded with professor after professor that instilled the fear of social media in us future educators. I remember time after time, sitting in a lecture hall and being told horror stories of a teacher who got reprimanded for having social media profile pictures that showed them with an alcoholic drink in their hand or teachers who were fired for posting their political stance online. At this point, I became apprehensive about using social media in any form. I started to private my accounts and delete anything and everything that I felt was unnecessary.

social media activism blm lgbtqia+
Social Media Activism

But this was hard for me. I am an active social media user and quite politically engaged. Now I was never outwardly stating my opinions online nor would I pick a fight with a comment section, but I had no problem sharing news, links, and stories that clearly demonstrated my political leaning. I understand that the university was trying to protect young educators like myself, but it did truly instill an unnecessary fear of the online world. Over time, however, and mostly as I became more comfortable with my position as a teacher, I began to rejoin the political world of social media.

Que 2020.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, I began to become actively engaged with the political and social world of Twitter. It was during this time that I realized the massive impact social media activism can, and does, have on the world around us. It was during the Covid-19 lockdown that George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis. I followed the events that were unfolding across the border and it became clear quite quickly that social media was a powerhouse for change as hashtags like #blacklivesmatter began to take off.

Three months of quarantine taught us to live online, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that it was what we saw online that sent us back onto the streets. On May 25th, the circulation of video footage capturing George Floyd’s murder by four Minneapolis police officers quickly incited local protests. Three nights later, our feeds streamed with live images of protesters burning Minneapolis’s Third Police Precinct. In the course of June, uprisings expanded at unprecedented speed and scale—growing nationally and then internationally, leaving a series of now iconic images, videos, and exhortations in their wake. Every historic event has its ideal medium of documentation—the novel, the photograph, the television—and what we’re witnessing feels like an exceptionally “online” moment of social unrest. –

The Second Act of Social Media Activism- Jane Hu

The mass social change that came from the killing of George Floyd was astronomical, and dare I say unprecedented. Millions upon millions of people were drawn to the streets through connections via social media to right the wrongs. Many argue that protests do nothing, but this is simply not true. The social media frenzy that was caused by the killing of George Floyd resulted in massive social change:

Of course, the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing social media frenzy was not perfect. One particular moment that was highly criticized at the time was #BlackoutTuesday. The movementslacktivism gained immense traction with millions of people posting a black image on their social media in solitary for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. However, the issue with the movement was twofold: the hashtag drown out posts from the BLM movement and it was a form seen by many as a form of slacktivism. Over the last number of years, there has been a rise in performative action on social media with many critiquing others for only doing the bare minimum to elicit change. This performative activism was very much on display during the George Floyd movement and it shaped the opinions of many people as many saw this as a way for the privileged and white to wash their hands of what occurred.

Despite this, I truly believe that the change that came from the George Folyd movement was meaningful and worthwhile. Conversations on social media were centred around how to elicit change, end systematic racism, and how to reform deeply ingrained social institutions. From these conversations came systematic change not only in the United States but across the globe. And most importantly, it reminded people that change can happen when people come together.

Early on in my career, as I noted above, I was very hesitant to actively engage on social media in a political sense. But as I have grown in my place as an educator, I feel quite the opposite. It is from movements, like George Folyd, that it becomes clear that as an educator I have a unique position to influence social change. It is easy as educators to be worried that we are pushing the social boundary too far as much of our role is based on presenting a positive image to the public, but I do think that this image can include acknowledging our beliefs.

It takes just a few minutes on social media to see that teachers across the world are engaging with social media activism in a positive and constructive manner:

Teachers hold a unique place in the public eye, but that place should be used to elicit positive social change for all students.

Interested in discussing social media activism in class? Learning for Justice has a great introductory lesson to the topic.

Can online social media activism be meaningful and worthwhile? Is it possible to have productive conversations about social justice online? What is our responsibility as educators to model active citizenship online?

4 thoughts on “Social Media Activism”

  1. I love this post, Mariah. I had/have the same hesitations as you in terms of online participation but since the class discussion, I have realized that sharing a post or article that supports an activist stance doesn’t mean I’m going to face repercussions. I have been slowly increasing my participation by liking and/or sharing posts that I support. I haven’t yet built the confidence to comment on other “hot topics” and I’m not sure I will but only time will tell. P.S. I see your Twitter feed inclusion here includes one of the teachers from my internship, Trudy! She does a fantastic job at participating online and professionally advocating her beliefs. I take a lot of notes from her online presence.

    1. So cool about Trudy! I just recently started following her and she has a lot of interesting commentary on education.

  2. “Early on in my career, as I noted above, I was very hesitant to actively engage on social media in a political sense. But as I have grown in my place as an educator, I feel quite the opposite.” It’s funny, Mariah — I read this and my initial reaction was that I realized I actually feel the opposite. When I was first starting my career I was significantly less … afraid? cognizant? of what people thought of me, and therefore I was more apt to share my thoughts more publicly. As I reflect on this I think some of this new reticence to share in online spaces comes from the backlash I’ve seen happen in some school contexts after teachers have posted. It’s too bad that my perspective is so tainted by these incidents – it’s made me nervous in a way I never was before.

    1. I think many teachers feel the opposite to me and I think that is okay! I feel like many teachers see what happens to other teachers in terms of backlash and get hesitant to be active on social media so I feel like your reaction is totally normal and valid. I don’t know if there is a way to avoid this, but for myself I just try to be very purposeful about what I post and interact with on social media and so far this has been effective.

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