Keeping the “Act” in Social Activism

#ECI831

Can a hashtag have impact? Can social media really cultivate change? In my experience, social media has enlightened me, inspired me, and has brought me awareness on various issues and topics, such as:

The power of social media has brought people together to fight for these issues (and more), created discussion and conversation surrounding the topics, and brought awareness to mass amounts of people. In other words, these movements were propelled through social activism.

Social activism can be broken down into two parts.

Social: It refers to using social media for activism. Social media becomes unique in the story of activism because, like Catherine says, it can “gain traction very quickly and draw in a large audience” due to its ability to share instantly.

Activism: According to Wikipedia, it is the “efforts to promote, impede, direct, or intervene in socialpoliticaleconomic, or environmental reform with the desire to make changes in society.” 

So in turn, social activism plays a large role in our society today when it comes to social justice issues.

However, is it enough? The current topic of debate in our #eci831 class is: Can social activism be meaningful and worthwhile?

Daniel brings up an important point by saying “activism requires concrete actions and changes in behavior.” He goes on to say that using social media, such as changing a profile picture or retweeting a social justice issue, is the easy part. It’s much harder to spend time face to face, or doing something concrete, in order to bring change to a critical issue. In a Macleans article by Scott Gilmore, the term #slacktivism is highlighted. If you are new to the word, it’s “showing support for a cause with the main purpose of boosting the egos of participants in the movement.” In the article about #slacktivism, he writes:

“A slacktivist is someone who… will wear a T-shirt to raise awareness. She will wear a wristband to demonstrate support, sign a petition to add her voice, share a video to spread the message, even pour a bucket of ice over her head. The one thing slacktivists don’t do is help by, for example, giving money or time to those who are truly making the world a better place: the cancer researcher, the aid worker, the hospice manager.”

These are all valid points, especially since social activism can lack two big components: time and money. In saying that though, it’s important to remember the benefits that social activism can bring to our communities, our classrooms, and our world. Social media brings relevance to social justice issues through conversation and online discussions because “in today’s digital age it provides a voice for others“, a valuable point brought up by Curtis. Not only does it provide a voice for many, it also gives the opportunity to stand up for the marginalized on a larger level because it has the capacity to reach millions.

Yes, it can be dangerous to encourage social activism without action, but can it be meaningful and worthwhile? Of course. There are a lot of things to be critical about when it comes to social activism, but in the end, it’s important because it creates awareness, draws support, and brings forth a greater community for the cause.

Digital Citizenship in Social Activism

Digital citizenship plays an important role in social activism, especially in the classroom. However, the way that many educators have seen digital citizenship is much different than how it should be used in our classrooms today. Some may say that “digital citizenship can be defined as engaging in appropriate and responsible behaviour when using technology.”

Appropriate and responsible behaviour. Is that all digital citizenship is? Is that what it should be?

In my opinion, it goes far beyond the “do’s” and “don’ts” of the internet. In the words of Katia Hildebrandt, “Being a good digital citizen is about so much more than being safe and responsible online. It’s about participating in meaningful ways to promote equity in networked spaces.

If we want to raise a generation of young people who are inspired and motivated to create change, then we need to instil “digital leadership” in our students. In my latest podcast, I discussed the idea that George Couros brings up about moving from Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership– “using the vast reach of technology (especially the use of social media) to improve the lives, well-being, and circumstances of others.”

Using the internet in a responsible and ethical way is good, but using the internet to inspire and improve the lives of others is better.

Jennifer Casa-Todd brings up five important ways to use digital leadership in the elementary classroom:

  1. Empower others who have no voice
  2. Address societal inequality
  3. Promote important causes
  4. Learn and share their learning
  5. Be a more positive influence in the lives of others

Citizenship vs Digital Citizenship

Instead of separating citizenship and digital citizenship so distinctly with our students, we need to remember that technology and social media are integrated into their day-to-day lives. We should encourage them to be leaders in every aspect of their lives, including social media. Christy Fennewald brings up an interesting point when she says “citizenship doesn’t end when you shut down the laptop or silence the smartphone. It’s all around us. And it’s just citizenship, period.” As educators, we have the opportunity to cultivate student leaders and citizens who aren’t afraid of making positive change through social media.

Joel Westheimer talks about the 3 types of citizens:

  1. Personally Responsible
  2. Participatory
  3. Justice Oriented

In a recent presentation, Dr. Alec Couros draws attention to some examples that fall under the three categories of citizens, specifically online.

IMG_0887
Image from Dr. Alec Couros
(from Catherine Ready‘s blog)
  1. The personally responsible citizen might sign online petitions, share inoffensive articles, or donate online to their favourite causes.
  2. The participatory citizen might develop and/or share petitions, initiate online fundraisers, or actively share or create information for the social good.
  3. The justice oriented citizen might share articles that disrupt normative thinking, engage in controversial and uncomfortable discussion, or campaign to work toward social change and equity.

The important difference between the three types of citizens is that the justice oriented citizen looks at understanding the underlying issue and acts to solve root causes.

How do we raise these types of citizens? As a primary teacher, implementing social justice in my classroom seems overwhelming at times. However, it helps when I start with empathy. Fostering a community of empathy and understanding is where I always begin. Once students have empathy towards others, they can start to create change.

It’s important for students to know that they are not too young to make a difference and their voices matter in the movement of social activism. As educators, it’s our responsibility to empower our students so that they can use their online presence to do something positive for our world.

So, is it possible for a hashtag to have impact? Yes, but it doesn’t just stop there. Let’s model and teach our students to move from participating citizens, to engaged and justice oriented citizens. We don’t want to forget the act in #socialactivism.

One thought on “Keeping the “Act” in Social Activism

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