By Ginna Royalty
Social media is a very common way for social movements and political groups to organize and gain followers.
“This year, in particular, we have seen social media being used to mobilize people for their real activism, it has been used to get people out,” said Shamira Gelbman, associate professor of political science at Wabash College. “This election, in particular, we have seen a lot of organizations of letter writing and calls to senators through social media.”
Social media can draw people in and get them actively engaged in the conversation, Gelbman said. “It has been used in ways to try and get people to publicly commit to being engaged. ‘Retweet if you’re committed to voting, click on this link to sign a pledge.’ It’s really made political participation a more of a social thing, there’s more of a peer pressure to it.”
Along with the Women’s March on Washington, there have been many types of campaigns, rallies and protests that have begun and used the momentum of social media.
KONY 2012 went viral overnight. The video collected more than 112 million views within the first week it was released, becoming the most viral video in history, according to Time.
Invisible Children, a San Diego-based social justice organization with Christian roots, released the campaign. The campaign focused on the activities of the central Africa-based Lord’s Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony.
According to the organization’s website, their mission is to “make Joseph Kony famous, not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice.”
The social media campaign was focused on spreading awareness, but they also called for action and planned a “Cover the Night” event for April 20, 2012, where participants were encouraged to put posters and materials over their towns.
KONY 2012 relied on social networking site users to rebroadcast, or share, the video to their own followers and get others engaged in the conversation. They tried to appeal to both sides of the political spectrum, focusing on bringing the two parties together for a common goal.
KONY 2012 is one of the first examples of a massively successful political social media campaign. Invisible Children used social media as a tool to empower its followers.
Sparked by Ferguson, police brutality has become a highly discussed and key political topic in the United States since 2014. The first time the phrase “black lives matter” was used was by a black community organizer in July 2013 after George Zimmerman shot and killed black 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman was later acquitted.
The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter didn’t pick up until August 2014 after Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, Missouri. Between mid-2013 and March 2016 #BlackLivesMatter appeared on Twitter almost 11.8 million times according to the Pew Research Center.
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, a professor of African-American studies at Princeton University told Al Jazeera, “Social media has been critical in the knitting together of a national narrative of police violence and abuse.”
“Social media platforms have helped organizers to overcome distance and geography by putting people in immediate touch with each other,” Taylor said.
According to the Pew Research Center, in 15% of #BlackLivesMatter tweets, the author was making a larger point and engage in a broader discussion surround race.
“Social media connects people, gives them a voice and gives them a sense of power,” said Payton Auchenbach, a junior political science and communications double major at Elon University.
“People who otherwise have nothing in the world can voice their opinion on social media, without consequences. This builds momentum, both in a positive and negative sense.”