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A mini guide to digital activism

By Sam Rezazadeh, July 14 2020—

Social media, in addition to time and space, has been a fast-emerging new dimension of our lives. Our social media accounts are the digital extension of ourselves, thoughts and ideas. With the advent of the Web 2.0, users are able to publish in order to influence and create a dialogue with an audience. This new way of being active in the cyber world is often called ‘Participatory Media.’

A lot of events are unfolding around the world at the moment, from the Coronavirus pandemic to the recent protests to support the fight against racism, and social media platforms are playing an influential role in these matters. There are particular ways in which we can effectively communicate our thoughts and concerns about a cause that we care about. 

Social media platforms are designed in algorithms that make some messages stand out while the rest get hidden. That is why some content goes viral and some doesn’t see the sunlight ever again. Instagram, Facebook, YouTube and the rest are participatory social media platforms that allow us to express ourselves, our thoughts, identities, and political and social beliefs while also to connecting us with other people. If we want to influence a certain audience about a subject we care about, we have to “to be active creators as well as consumer of culture” in the cyber world, as Howard Rheingold from Stanford University says. 

The internet has abundant power to bring change, like we have seen in the Arab Spring’s case where Twitter helped with many people participate in revolutionary protests. Joining a movement or starting one on social media has never been this easy: all you need are basic computer skills, an account on a social media platform and an internet connection. Now, you are set to be the next icon of a movement or participate in one to make it go further. But, there are some communication rules and practices to it so that your message is heard properly. 

I have a social media account, now what?:

Howard Rheingold at the Communication Department, Stanford University, has written a pedagogical article on how citizens can use social media to become activists about a cause they want to work with. 

Now that we have a social media account and a passion in our hearts about something we care about, it is time to apply the strategies that help our voices to be heard. Each of the social media platforms are working with an underlying “blogging” system, a tool to publish something in a certain way. For example, your mini post on Twitter, a picture and a caption on Instagram, a status update on Facebook or the so called “Vlogs” on YouTube all have different features but the same idea behind them: the power for the user to publish and the consumer to respond. It’s like a two-way street mode of communication unlike TV, radio and newspapers.

 Connective Writing technique:

Our job as online activists is to go beyond just simply publishing a message. Our job is to “connect that rhetoric with your role as a citizen in democracy,” Rheingold writes. In order to do so, he has introduced the following steps:

First: You make a post that serves your cause and the intended audience. You should provide a link to a credible resource on the web and explain why this resource is worth the attention from the community. 

Second: It is time for “connective writing” technique whereby you introduce other credible links that add more information to the main idea you have chosen. 

Third: Now, engage in an online critical public discourse. It is the time for you to provide your own thoughts about the matter by asking probing questions, offering assertions or logical arguments. Your published work (no matter the format) should reflect your position on an issue and those links you have provided should support your ideas. 

Now let’s have a practical example: 

As I am sitting in my small room self-isolating from the rest of the world and keeping sane by watching too much Netflix, I want to publish something about the Coronavirus because it has become very concerning for me at the moment. There is lots of information out there that is evolving every hour. I have to find one major event or a series of smaller but related together events as the subject of my self-publishing post. 

I personally am mostly active on Instagram for its take-an-easy-shot-and-write-a caption-and-post-it features, but the above steps can work for any social media platforms. After taking the picture that can attract the audience’s attention — maybe a screenshot of the WHO president in today’s press conference that I am watching on my TV — I have to come up with the story I want to post. My credible source, as in step one, would be that screen shot. My “connective writing” could be quotes from Alberta Health Services on today’s WHO conference to fulfil step two. And finally, step three is when I provide my own personal thoughts about the matter. Social media platforms give you the ability to attract the audience via linking features do not forget about options like tags, mentions, geographical links and other tools that help your post to be visible and searchable. When my Instagram account was public, just by adding my location stamp and a hashtag, my views would be doubled on my posts and Instagram stories. 

There is one major and important issue at stake here credible sources. This is how we can make sure our content is accurate and legitimate. Fake news hurts our credibility and discourages our audience from pursuing our message in the future. 

There are many more communication strategies to engage an audience for our causes and make them listen to us. Using those techniques ensures that our message gets out and the people will know we have something worth seeing. The internet is a great tool in our hands and we can bring a change in the world by a simple click.

This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.

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