The current craze for activism amplifies clearly and profoundly across social media. My late father taught me the power of protest. He was strongly political, a single-parent, who self-taught to overcome the challenges of disability, and a national child-care system swayed in favour of the mother's rights. Marches, strikes and protests - he preferred the latter because they allowed people to get together - were constant markers of my childhood and adulthood. These served as a means of making links at local and national levels that were being overlooked elsewhere. In retrospect, these activities (earnest as they were in their aims - equal rights for fathers, equal pay, end the poll tax) were also social activities and ways of connecting to neighbours and making new friends.
The social and economic relevance of social protest is currently a hot topic receiving much attention in the news as it is being organised and publicised across social media. The storm around Greta Thunberg's climate change protest recently in Bristol has drawn attention to broader implications of social protest and the relationship to social media. Thunberg is an inspirational activist for many, social media also makes her target for internet memes, trolling and hate. We need to recognise the existence of a super-connected society: who can at once enhance things for the better and respond to the call to arms to change the world. There are also present dark and sometimes perverse social forces - some 'citizen journalism', community hate groups, online forums, and social media trolling.
The pioneer, in this case, Thunberg, is undoubtedly savvy. However, awareness of her vulnerabilities reflects alarming social media targeting tactics designed to negatively affect Thunberg and enrage her supporters.
Activism fed by social media reveals the inherently politicised state of different platforms (I am pointing directly at you Facebook). At the same time, such content also shows how communities actively condemn the current state 'things'. Activism enhanced by social media offers the opportunity for action against meaningless fake news and dangerous political figures.
The renowned sociologist, Manuel Castells [don't worry, is a link to a Wikipedia page], shows when the structures of capitalism are under strain (as they are today), alternative and countercultural values and ways of living to gain more attention. With social media and figures such as Thurnberg, alternative values are allowed to move into the mainstream. At such a time, social activism and associated competencies, communities, networks, and social skills provide a rich source for reassessing not only what to protest and how, but also what real change might mean.
Through protest and activism, I hope we continue to connect with our neighbours and make new friends. And I am certain we will continue to use social media (for good things).
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