I’ve actively worked in animal rescue and advocacy for the past seven years; during that time, I’ve witnessed how social media helps organizations reach larger audiences than they ever could have in the past. Social media is especially helpful for smaller organization that don’t have big budgets, but need to reach people to spread awareness about their cause—and hopefully, get people to donate money. It helps us learn about organizations around the world, and quickly connects us to issues regarding human rights, animal rights and environmental advocacy. But I also feel like it has one major flaw: It allows people to feel like they’re doing something, without really doing anything at all.
Protesting on Social Media
One social and environmental issue that comes to mind is the Dakota Access Pipeline. I know people who made calls or wrote letters and emails to express their concern about the pipeline, and I know someone who drove out to North Dakota to participate in the demonstrations. They saw a need, and they took action. But I feel like the majority of people defaulted to what had become a new form of so-called activism, which is changing your profile picture to some variation of “No DAPL” or “I Stand with Standing Rock,” or using these terms as a hashtag in a post about how they feel about the issue. Before I go any further, I want to make it that that I’m not bashing people who do this (I do it too). I think these still serve as a way to share your views and show that a lot of people care about and issue—sharing articles and photos from reputable sources is one way to help educate the masses—but it’s not enough. And I feel like too many people think it is enough.
Fully Committing to a Cause
Sharing photos and memes or using hashtags isn’t going to fix a problem. Turning someone who was shot by a police officer into a hashtag won’t fix a problem. Commenting “Someone needs to do something about this!” on a post will not solve a problem. Change happens when we take action. It happens when we get out from behind our computer or phone screen and decide to take action. One of my favorite quotes is from Lily Tomlin, who said, “I always wondered why somebody doesn’t do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody.” People need to live by that quote. I try to live by that quote.
Going back to my advocacy work, I cannot tell you how many times people say they want to help, but then are suddenly busy when it’s time to do actual work. Or sometimes the work, even though it’s important to the cause, isn’t what people want to do, so they fall off the radar. People get all fired up on social media, but are they doing anything? Are they calling legislators or writing letters? Are they participating in peaceful demonstrations, donating money or volunteering for organizations? Are they truly thinking about what they can do to help initiate change?
Social Media Can be a Powerful Tool—If We Use it the Right Way
Sure, we can continue changing our profile picture to show our support and use those hashtags, but don’t let it stop there. Don’t be a passive advocate. Use social media to educate yourself about a cause, then turn around and use what you’ve learned to write a letter or an article for your local newspaper. Then share the heck out of that article with all of your friends. Engage in thoughtful conversations with people and correct those spreading misinformation. Again, change is possible if we take action.
I’ve been heavily active in animal advocacy for years, but now I’m trying to be more active in human rights and environmental advocacy. I’m using Facebook and Twitter to follow organizations and read articles about current events and issues, and I’m making myself find ways to get active in those causes as much as my schedule allows. I’m certainly not perfect, but I am trying to do a better job of being an advocate. We have a lot going on in our own country, as well as others. And with the changes we’ve seen over the past few weeks, it’s critical that we make our voices heard and stand up for the causes we believe in.