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What It Means to be a Digital Activist

By Brittany Anderson
Assistant Web Content Manager

First things first: don’t let anyone put you down for using your voice through social media. Ever.

I’ve been told (either directly, or it’s been implied) that online platforms are not an ideal space to challenge others when it comes to matters of social justice. Yes, there occasionally comes a time when arguing with family or friends on Facebook eventually renders itself a lost cause, because you truly can’t beat a good old face-to-face discussion.

But being a digital activist doesn’t mean you stop there, and it doesn’t mean that the things you say and efforts you make online are useless.

30 years ago, who would have thought that the internet would be one of the most important modes of connecting us across the globe, educating others (and yourself) and organizing movements?

It doesn’t matter what anyone else says about it: using social media as a tool for encouraging and enacting change is one of the most powerful things you can do starting right now. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s incredibly effective if you know how to use it.

Don’t blend in with the crowd: start those uncomfortable conversations that you know need to be had. Learn from others (writers, directors, artists, speakers, neighbors, academics) and teach others what you’ve learned. Don’t fall victim to silence or tuning things out; we need each other. Remember to rest and regroup because it’s necessary for growth.

Being a digital activist can be messy. You may lose people along the way. But if you’re passionate about what you’re advocating for— and you know it’s the right thing to do— have the courage to post it anyway.

One important thing to stray away from is being a “slacktivist:” someone who says they support a cause, but does very little to show for it. This kind of activism, while good in its intentions, creates noise and can distract from the overall movement.

Of course, the internet has its own pitfalls that can deter online activism. Most notably? Fake news. This article by Ally Bolender is more relevant than ever as we navigate through the constant waves of audio, videos, images and data being thrown at us. There are many tools available at your disposal that will help you stay on track of your mission.

The internet’s pervasiveness also means that harmful voices can be easily amplified. By harmful, I mean people who add nothing useful to the overall conversion: they’re there to fearmonger, spread misinformation, and get people riled up for the sake of them being riled up.

The best advice is to ignore them! Mute or block their accounts, and don’t give them the satisfaction of engagement. If you think you can help them see a new perspective or stop their damaging actions, great. If not, let it go. Focus on what you can control.

As a digital activist, one of the most important things to remember is to stand tall and keep your convictions and values in mind. Don’t let anyone bully you into sinking to their level with emotionally-charged language, blanket statements or straw man arguments.

If you mess up, be willing to take accountability. If you change your mind about something, be transparent about that. Being a digital activist is not about sharing your opinion just to see how many people agree with you and who you can piss off.

Also, remember that although the internet is widely accessible to many, it’s not accessible to all. It’s a sobering reminder that if you have the privilege of having social media at your convenience, you should take full advantage of being able to use your platforms for change.

At its core, activism is a grassroots effort. Going out and getting your hands dirty is just as important as talking from the comfort of your own home. So when the time comes, use the tools you already have and have picked up along the way to take your activism to new heights in the streets.

Still, many movements are started and shaped online, and you shouldn’t feel silly for believing in that. We are too interconnected to think otherwise.

Online is where human beings are seen, heard and felt. Online is where we first get angry or sad or happy. Online is where we share GoFundMe’s, petitions, helpful infographics, conversation starters and stories from voices who need to be heard. In 2020, “online” is an inevitable and inescapable component of the changemaking process.

Featured image by Brittany Anderson.

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