2020: the year where media directs advocacy. The year where we receive presidential updates through Twitter, watch political debates through online live streams, and receive breaking news from Instagram.
In the past decade, social media has evolved from its footings as an entertainment platform to a vast network for international connections. 2010 began with major events such as the Haitian earthquake and World Cup, becoming among the first to garner vast online attention.
This trajectory continued into 2019, with the Internet’s influence expanding to support global strikes against climate change and gun-related violence, fundraise for disasters such as the Australian bush fires, and share the stories of immigrants facing persecution.
Our generation has grown up immersed in an age of smartphones and the Internet; with this, we’ve developed a new definition of communication. And, with that, we must redefine what effective advocacy means.
We’ve all seen the signs of inefficient online campaigning: a post uploaded to your friend’s wall, consisting of images that all too often border the fine line between clickbait and accurate news. These photos trigger your emotional centers, manifesting feelings of guilt and helplessness. The thought that I would help if I could circles your mind, post after post. You are then confronted with a call to action, reduced to a simple like or retweet. It convinces you that a click of your fingers will result in a step towards global change. It provides you with a sense of power, one that fills the self-created vacuum of advocacy. But how do initiatives like these stimulate direct change?
As part of the first generation to be considered “social media natives,” I find that drawing the distinction between screens and reality becomes more difficult as technology continues to expand into our lives.
To us, our lives within and beyond these platforms are intrinsically linked, and, as such, it’s easy to believe that our actions online are direct and impactful.
Yet, online advocacy ultimately follows a cycle of action and dismissal. Social media platforms allow us to learn about campaigns to an extent broader than ever before, but it also gives us the option to simply click away. The call to action that forms the backbone of online advocacy is minimized to a single second, diluted by the continuous distractions of the Internet.
Despite the lack of direct action, these initiatives provide the same fulfillment that we find beyond our screens, giving us the false illusion that what we are doing is enough, that we are truly creating a change in our communities.
I have been guilty of falling into this cycle myself: with campaigns like the #BlueforSudan movement that spread through online communities — including Deerfield’s — seemingly overnight, it’s hard not to think that social media is the ideal platform for advocacy.
But there’s a point at which these initiatives transition from encouraging awareness to a hollow movement. The oversaturation of posts and shares is what ultimately kills online advocacy.
Once we reach a point where these kinds of posts are normalized, enough that even the calls to action aren’t able to sway individuals, we can no longer truly incentivize change.
This isn’t to say that social media can’t be used as an effective means of communication. In our status quo, online platforms have given us the opportunity to reach out to those across the globe in a blink of an eye, and are instrumental in movements such as the climate strikes in October. But these initiatives can’t sustain themselves solely on these networks. They require a balance of virtual and direct action, able to utilize the characteristics of social platforms to their advantage.
With this, a shift in our community must also occur alongside in order to incentivize the spread of information through undistorted news outlets. In my time at Deerfield, only occasionally have I seen discussions of current events centered around non-social platforms.
As a community, we have accepted social media as our primary means of receiving information. With the majority of current events going unaddressed in class discussions, our window into the status quo is often limited and misrepresented. In order to promote effective advocacy, it is critical to make accurately represented sources accessible to the community as a whole.
Deerfield has made strides in the past few years to tackle this issue. Current event updates at school meetings, workshops at the upcoming MLK day celebration, and recent participation in local climate strikes have kindled the flame towards developing the fire of advocacy in our community — and it should be our priority to continue this trajectory.
Although resources and news services are available and often catered towards younger demographics, they are not nearly as prevalent as they have to be to promote active conversation. By incorporating these news platforms into our daily lives, and by connecting students to them through their school emails or the Bulletin, we can truly open our doors to the global community.
We are at a point in our lives in which we have the power to create change. By the end of the decade, we will be the generation taking charge of our governments and societies. The fact that the media will continue to act as an integral part of our lives is inevitable.
All I ask is that we, as a community, are able to always question the effects of online campaigns, and to act aptly to develop the institutions around us.