As the Digital Fellow for End Rape On Campus, I spend every day curating content to share on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts as well as creating original designs to spread awareness on the issues that we advocate for. There are many pros and cons to social media activism. It allows an individual or organization to get people involved in a cause on a global scale, provides an accessible way to participate for those who are unable to participate in events or volunteer work and creates an open dialogue on the issues. On the other hand, this method of activism has received a lot of criticism for not having a substantial impact or oversimplifying complex issues.
Social media has made it easier than ever to instantly communicate and share ideas with a large audience. A recent example of this is the #MeToo movement, which led to a major shift of public opinion towards sexual violence and a wave of perpetrators of rape and sexual assault being held accountable for their actions. The Women’s March attracted millions of participants worldwide. However, there is still a lot of work to be done within these movements, as they disproportionately give a voice to white cisgendered straight women. This was briefly addressed at the 2018 Women’s March that I attended in Santa Ana, CA when the organizers invited members of the Indigenous Communities of OC to speak at the opening ceremony and lead the march with an opening prayer by an elder. Contrary to the organizer’s claim to want be increasing visibility of Native communities in the region, there was no mention of the groups presence on any of their social media channels of press statements, and any media coverage of the event glossed over the Indigenous Communities of OC’s participation, reducing their powerful, heart-wrenching call for visibility to a footnote.
Activism via social media has been received a lot of criticism in the past. The term slacktivism has even made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary, which defines it as “The practice of supporting a political or social cause by means such as social media or online petitions, characterized as involving very little effort of commitment”. A study by the University of British Columbia showed that “when consumers gave public support, they were no more likely to provide more meaningful support for the cause than if someone was just randomly asked for the larger request.” Historically, though these campaigns tend to raise awareness, they don’t get substantial results. For example, in 2014, 276 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram. Millions participated in a social media campaign posting and retweeting with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. It has been four years since these children were abducted, a handful of the girls have escaped or been released, but most of them are still being held captive and the social media campaign has lost its momentum.
Despite the letdowns of many social media activism campaigns, it is crucial to acknowledge how these platforms can be used when advocating for Survivors of campus sexual assault. We can’t change the social paradigm overnight, but we can share their stories, hold their attackers accountable, and call out colleges and universities for violating Title IX rights on a national or even global scale. When a survivor wants to tell their story, they are often discredited, threatened, and/or failed by law enforcement or campus administrators. Advocating through social media can be a way to put pressure on institutions and legislators to do the right thing, or at the very least obey the legal requirements of things like Title II, Title VI, Title IX, and the Clery Act. EROC also uses social media to inform our audience of the legal rights that they have so that they can be better prepared when fighting injustice on campus. Social media allows us to supplement our advocacy and awareness efforts on campus sexual assault, emphasis on supplement. Awareness is important, but to really make a change we need action.