With each passing year, it seems that our generation grows more and more addicted to social media and the outlet it provides. Social Media sites are used by millions of people every day, and some are tapping into the ready-made audience to bring about cultural change. We’ve all heard of them, the famous and infamous Social Justice Warriors, activists who use social media sites such as Twitter and Tumblr to bring awareness to social and political issues. And to movements like Black Lives Matter, which was started with #BlackLivesMatter in 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting of Trayvon Martin.
“I think it’s a relevant and popular platform that almost everyone has access to and uses often. Because of how accessible it is, I think it’s a great way to bring awareness of different topics, maybe things that need to be addressed or changed, to a wide range of people.” says Carter Helmandollar, a sophomore at Cosby who regularly uses social media sites like Tumblr and Instagram.
This is particularly true for movements that begin in response to events that already gain mainstream coverage, such as Ferguson and the deaths of unarmed black teenagers in 2014 and 2015. From this, the social justice movement called Black Lives Matter was born, and helped to fill in the gaps of the story that the general public was missing, as well as call attention to similar stories, creating a massive following and political sway. Movements like Black Lives Matter and intersectional feminism have taken root firmly in social media, and spread their messages predominantly through the platform.
In the past few years, it has come to light that social justice online is quite powerful, as everyday people only need a relatively small following to help bring about change; and they can do it with only the press of a ‘share’ button. “Social media allows for people to share their opinions about things they feel are unjust, and also have that opinion shared with many others, very easily,” says Helmandollar. “I think the use of social media as a place for debate on social issues makes everyone more aware of them. Once it’s a big enough deal online, it comes up on the news and becomes something for political debate.”
But despite the change that online social justice has facilitated, social media users have found that it can harm as well as help. Helmandollar says, “I think online social justice is important, but online debates can be less than friendly. The relative anonymity that is allowed through social media is often taken advantage of. People who think there are no repercussions of their actions aren’t going to try and censor themselves or their opinions.” This anonymity allows for sometimes vicious mass attacks on “problematic” people online, all in the name of social justice; actually hurting the movement itself and its respectability.
Helmandollar also brings up another issue- credibility. “There also is always a bit of a question of credibility online. News apps and that sort of social media are obviously more dependable, but people trying to share facts and opinions aren’t always 100% correct and people can end up being mad about something that isn’t happening or vice versa.” Social justice fervor can spread inaccurate information like wildfire, with no one able to trace back to where it originated.
But even with all of its faults, online social justice is invaluable to making change happen, and has solidified its power with various movements- proving social media users know how to make big waves in this online world.