It’s More Than Just A ‘Like’: Social Media’s Role in Activism

A post by Jess Myers and invited guest, Dr. Chris Linder of University of Georgia

Facebook and I celebrated our 10th year anniversary this winter. I remember one of the first times I logged onto my account late in the fall semester of my senior year with my roommate hovering over me. What picture would I use for my profile? I picked a great one of me wearing my favorite sweater at my ½ birthday celebration at the Melting Pot. And that was it. There were no walls to write on, albums to upload, or even then people to “poke,” and there was certainly no invites to Candy Crush. When I think back to all that Facebook wasn’t, I can’t believe we made it past those first few log-ons.

I had no idea what Facebook would become or that “social media” would even become a medium in which to share my stories or the issues in which I was passionate. And, I certainly would have never imagined I’d be engaging in research about the ways in which social media is used as a tool for activists seeking to create change on their campus and throughout our country around the national epidemic of sexual assaults occurring on college campuses. If you would have told twenty-year-old-Jess in 2004 all that Facebook would become, she wouldn’t have laughed in your face (because she was thoughtful like that) but the smile on her face would have conveyed to you a state of disbelief.

But, oh, how often does Jess-In-2015 wish there would have been an accessible tool during her college days for her to better understand and learn about sexual assault on college campuses. Or an online space that would have offered a counter-narrative to the campus rhetoric that hid sexual assault in some deep closet. Or a “like” or “share” that would have opened her eyes to what was happening to her friend and to other students on campus wasn’t okay and it wasn’t their fault. Because, today, in 2015, we’ve all seen the power social media activism has played in helping bring sexual assault on college campuses to the forefront. It is changing lives, bringing visibility to once-invisible toxic campus cultures, and beginning to hold perpetrators and institutions accountable.

Our research team getting down to business  at our research day this past fall at Georgia Tech.

Our research team getting down to business at our research day this past fall at Georgia Tech.

Over the past year, I’ve had the extreme privilege to collaborate on a research project started by Dr. Chris Linder to explore the strategies student activists are using to push the issue of sexual assault and institutional betrayal to the forefront of our national media, within the White House, and throughout the ivory tower of higher education despite the doubters that refer to online activism as “slacktivism.” As we gear up for a second year of Critical Social Justice which asks participants to examine the margins and intersections of issues and disturb the hierarchy of value associated with different forms of activism, I wanted to invite Dr. Linder as a guest to share more about our research in the hope that UMBC activists and one-day-activists consider ways in which social media can play an integral role in critical social justice on our campus, in Baltimore, and beyond.  Continue reading