Can online social media activism be meaningful and worthwhile?

Oh, boy. This one is tough!

My thoughts on social media activism have bounced around so many times, almost depending on the cause each time. I think social media can be a powerful tool, but I’m unsure if it can consistently deliver actionable results.

There are, of course, many successes. Pulling from this website (, we can see several movements that leveraged social media to help further propel the impacts. For example, the Arab Spring is often cited as one of the first major movements exposed by social media. Being able to share what is being experienced by people in the affected countries, live and unfiltered, helped reveal the struggles of people in a place that is, I would say, not as appreciated by the world at large, and saddled with negative stereotypes and misconceptions. These are real people, experiencing real hardships, and are striving to take action and make their country better.

Some activist movements seem primarily social media-driven. For example, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge revolved around people being recorded doing some sort of skit or action to pour ice bucket water on them, making sure to note the goal is to raise awareness and funds for ALS research. I remember the first round of posts and shares all made mention of ALS, but as the challenge progressed, more people seemed to do it for the “viral” piece, not so much the ALS piece. To me, a distinct example of this was when some notable NHL players began participating in the ice bucket challenge, but not making note of the ALS research/cure focus. I remember the video put out by Jonathan Toews, then of the Chicago Blackhawks (and also the captain during and after the Kyle Beach incident), where he said something along the lines of “here’s my ice bucket challenge”, but nothing related to ALS. It seemed to highlight that as a social media campaign progresses, it eventually loses sight of it original meaning and intent. Kind of like the game “Telephone”.

Despite this, I do think it’s important, especially as educators, to make sure that conversations surrounding social justice are open and easily viewable. I think by consistently doing so, such topics and efforts become normalized. There’s certainly resistance to this notion, however, such as the bandying about of the word “woke” as some sort of negative connotation. I believe there is value in questioning why some people view “woke” negatively. I wonder at times if it’s understood what woke means? It doesn’t help that social media sites seem to use their algorithms to stimulate argument and disagreement, and not so much conducing of collaborative dialogue and consensus-building.

Reading this over, this all seems like a bunch of rambling just to conclude that my answer is “yes…maybe…with some work involved?”. I think social media is a powerful tool, that if properly leveraged, can be used to promote social justice and equity. It’s already used to sow anger and discontent in many circles, so why can’t it instead be used to model positive social citizenship? I think it can.

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