Social Media and Social Justice: How identifying online influences positive change in contemporary society
Social media does not simply reflect social life in modern day society but constitutes it. One way we can identify online is by advocating for particular beliefs and values which align with the online community that we belong to. Advocacy, particularly online activism is a relatively new phenomenon that has had a significant effect in influencing change in contemporary society. Whilst there are many papers which argue the negative effects of social media on identity, there are hardly any which highlight its importance in personal and social development. This paper will argue that self-identifying via online activism is a way to extend our real-life values and, with the right intentions, can influence positive change in real life. Recent social and political activism shows how using hashtags, mainly on Twitter, have been effective in influencing offline action and raising awareness to ensure movements remain in public discourse.
With the rise of technology and new forms of social media, virtual communities have become a reality of everyday life, revolutionising the way we self-identify and share aspects of ourselves publicly. These virtual communities are no less real than the traditional forms of community as users still communicate with their peers and experience a sense of belonging, it simply takes a different form (Delanty, 2018). Social media platforms, specifically Twitter and Facebook, are at the forefront of virtual communities as they provide a space where people can express themselves and connect with other users that hold similar interests and views, despite distance and other physical barriers. Self-identifying via online activism is a way to extend our real-life values and, with the right intentions, can influence change in real life. Recent social and political activism shows how using hashtags, mainly on Twitter, have been effective in influencing offline action and raising awareness to ensure movements remain in public discourse. These growing platforms expose us to highly stigmatised issues in society, and whilst there are many studies that explore the negative effects this can have, there are also some which highlight the importance of it as an extension of our self-actualisation and the opportunities it affords to influence positive change. These studies will be discussed, with reference to the example of the #MeToo movement to support my argument that self-identification and online advocacy through the platform Twitter, influences positive change and strengthen ties in an otherwise ‘thin’ community.
Virtual communities offer a platform for individuals to share their thoughts, values and beliefs in a format that differs to that of a traditional community. A community, as defined by Wellman (2001, p. 227) is a “network of interpersonal ties that provide sociability, support, information, a sense of belonging, and social identity.” Whilst Wellman is defining a community in general, this definition also strongly aligns with the attributes of a virtual community; one which operates in a solely virtual capacity, via the internet, as opposed to the type we would usually associate ourselves with in everyday life. Turner (2001) describes virtual communities as ‘thin’ in comparison to organic communities, as they do not have the strong physical ties and are often fragile in nature due to the interactions being online and sometimes with strangers. However, I argue that these communities, although defined as ‘thin’, offer affordances to extend our identities and strengthen connections by facilitating discussions and expressing solidarity (Simpson, 2018). Social media platforms can connect people on opposite sides of the world within milliseconds and strengthen ties that would not exist otherwise.
Social media platforms, mainly those that dominate the landscape of the contemporary internet such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter play a central role in the process of identity construction. Although it is often debated that these platforms change our identity, I argue that they emphasise it. Erving Goffman’s (1959) postmodern perspective of identity is that it is fluid, fragmented and performed. Goffman’s explanation of identity is that it is driven by internal contradictions; suggesting identity is “an individual’s effort to act and behave in a way that influences how an audience sees him/her, usually with the intent to create, present, and maintain a favourable image in a social situation” Goffman (1959). This explanation of identity resonates in that our identities cannot be defined by any single structure and are strongly influenced by our peers, including networked publics. Twitter creates a community where our identity can be displayed and extended in an alternate format to how it is displayed in everyday life. I argue that this is a positive thing, as our identities are not constructed in isolation and can feed from many types of communication, including online interactions. Twitter is a tool we can use to project our inner thoughts and feelings in an alternate format to language and face-to-face interactions. Arfini et al (2021) explore the concept of identity within online communities in their research, discussing the way our identity is maintained online and the different opportunities to express ourselves. The authors explore the fact that people have the ability to deliberately choose to express certain characteristics to define themselves, consciously sharing content that associates them with topics and accounts. The ability to express ourselves in this virtual capacity is a source of self-expression and can make users feel more connected, strengthening friendships within our virtual communities.
Promoting positive behaviours and actions on social media can sometimes raise the question; does this reflect offline good intentions, or are users doing this to enhance their social standing within their virtual community (Buil, Chernatony, Wallace, 2018). I argue that promoting positive behaviours online, even if it’s just promoting it, can still influence positive change by educating other networked publics. The importance of advocating online is often overlooked in reference to our collective identity building in studies and research. Our collective identity, as defined by Melucci (1996) refers to aspects of ourselves that are derived from belonging to certain groups where people can connect and identify a place for themselves within specific social categories such as gender, ethnicity and culture. Therefore, virtual communities can support us in building our collective identity by offering a platform where we can connect with each other and ourselves. To strengthen these connections, we often use online activism as a tool to build on where we stand within a contemporary virtual community (Gerbaudo, Trere 2015). The social media tool Twitter is often specifically used for online activism, and has become a huge part of how we connect to specific topics and issues around the world. Activism has become a key part of how we protest our identities online to strengthen our own beliefs and values (Gerbaudo, Trere 2015). Twitter offer is an opportunity for members to interact with each other about topical issues and educate themselves and others in the effort towards achieving change internally and externally to these communities.
Activism comes in many different forms; there have always been uprisings, revolutions and protests, but social movements and the rise of trending topics on Twitter are far more recent and considerably important for sharing information. Twitter has a low barrier for entry and is relatively safe in comparison to physical forms of activism (Simpson, 2018). The fact that these movements can involve different people from across the world of all ages and demographics is hard to overlook when discussing the value these movements bring about in influencing positive change. Twitter offers a voice to those who previously lacked a platform to speak and be heard. This concept is explored in detail in Bouvier’s (2020) studies which depict the impact of hashtags such as #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter and how the process around these hashtags brought injustices to a much wider public view, ultimately creating pressures to make perpetrators accountable. Encouraging others to share their stories and reaching masses of people to educate them on a societal issue is invaluable in the era of social movements, resulting in countless positive outcomes.
An issue which often arises with social advocacy online is that users can fall into a trap of focusing on the performative aspects of these social movements online, such as sharing trending posts simply to maintain their social status or follow their peers rather than actually involving themselves in the root of the issue. Although this can be perceived as a shallow and ineffective, it is unlikely this is the result of malicious intentions. Getting involved in a movement because the online community that you identify with is supporting it can be beneficial for the movement in gaining traction and educating the wider community. A term that is often associated with this behaviour is ‘virtue signalling’, defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “an attempt to show other people that you are a good person, for example by expressing opinions that will be acceptable to them, especially on social media.” I argue that this isn’t necessarily bad thing, as long users do their best not to spread misinformation or take part in a way that would harm the groups they’re advocating for. Sharing information can still educate others and we should constantly seek to engage in conversations and reflect on how we can better perform our identity in the offline world.
Popular micro blogging platform Twitter has been the catalyst for a number of social movements that are identifiable by a single hashtag. One issue that has been at the forefront of the media both online and otherwise is the #MeToo movement which came to light in recent years to expose the unfortunate sexual abuse of individuals from different backgrounds (Manikonda et al, 2018). Looking specifically at the #MeToo movement as an example of how online advocacy has influenced positive change and strengthened ties in online communities, this movement demonstrates that, despite background, social stance and ethnicities, people were and still are able to share their stories and advocate for justice. Manikonda et al (2018) analyse how as well as spreading awareness, Twitter has enabled individuals to share their experiences via the hashtag #MeToo and show empathy and encouragement for each other to continue the movement and make perpetrators accountable. Their research states that disclosing their abuse resulted in positive psychologically impacts. Irrespective of the negativity towards different aspects of these personal experiences, the platform was positively utilised to bring about real change in the current society and strengthen ties in an online capacity.
Often, the tool Twitter is underestimated in terms of its usefulness in influencing positive change in contemporary society. Virtual communities offer certain affordances for users to self-identify online, extending their views and advocating for issues that their values align with. These virtual communities bring people together in ways that were unconceivable before the rise of social media, which has changed the fabric of our society. Activism online is an important aspect of self-identification, as it creates change that is reflected in the real world. While I agree that social media can be used to perform identities online, I also agree that an identity can be performed offline. Therefore, it is important to recognise the positive influence that self-identification and online activism contributes to strengthening ties in contemporary society.
Arfini, S., Botta Parandera, L., Gazzaniga, C. et al. (2021). Online Identity Crisis Identity Issues in Online Communities. Minds & Machines, 31, 193–212. https://doi-org.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/10.1007/s11023-020-09542-7
Beigi, G., Kambhampati, S., Liu, H., Manikonda, L. (2018). Twitter for Sparking a Movement, Reddit for Sharing the Moment: #metoo through the Lens of Social Media. arXiv preprint. https://arxiv.org/abs/1803.08022
Bouvier, G. (2020). Racist call-outs and cancel culture on Twitter: The limitations of the platform’s ability to define issues of social justice, Discourse, Context & Media, Volume 38, ISSN 2211-6958, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dcm.2020.100431.
Buil, I., de Chernatony, L., Wallace, E. (2018). Consuming Good on social media: what can conspicuous virtue signalling tell us about prosocial and unethical intentions? Journal of business ethics, 162 (3), 577-592. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-018-3999-7
Delanty, G., (2018). Virtual community: belonging as communication. Community. Routledge (3), 200-225. https://doi-org.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/10.4324/9781315158259
Gerbaudo, P., Treré, E. (2015). In search of the ‘we’ of social media activism: introduction to the special issue on social media and protest identities, Information, Communication & Society, 18:8, 865-871, DOI: 10.1080/1369118X.2015.1043319
Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. New York: Anchor Books.
Melucci, A. (1995). The process of collective identity. In H. Johnston & B. Klandermans (Eds.), Social Movements and culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 41 – 63.
Meikle, G. (Ed.). (2018). The Routledge Companion to Media and Activism. Routledge, 1. https://doi-org.dbgw.lis.curtin.edu.au/10.4324/9781315475059
Simpson, E. (2018). Integrated & alone: The use of hashtags in Twitter social activism. CSCW ’18: Companion of the 2018 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing. 237–240. https://doi.org/10.1145/3272973.3274064
Turner, B. (2001). Outline of a general theory of cultural citizenship. In N. Stevenson (Ed.), Culture and citizenship (pp. 11-32). SAGE Publications Ltd, https://www.doi.org/10.4135/9781446217665.n
Virtue Signalling. (n.d). In Cambridge Dictionary. Retrieved March 20, 2021, from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/virtue-signalling
Wellman, B. (2001). Physical Place and Cyberplace: The Rise of Networked Individualism’. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 25(2): 227–252. https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-2427.00309
15 thoughts on “Social Media and Social Justice: How identifying online influences positive change in contemporary society.”
Your paper constructs a great argument about the positives of identifying with online activism and extending our real-life values to influence positive changes. Unfortunately, I have a very skeptical and cynical perspective when it comes to social media usage, whereby I believe most media practices has narcissistic undertones and that every online action is only performed to enhance a user’s social standing within their virtual community.
Marwick (2013), explains that social media users act and display information to manifest a symbolic version of themselves on a digitized landscape. Every piece of information provided to social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, are used to make inferences about our own and other people’s identity. This affects how users’ group, interact and express with one another. However, these expressions of identity can be restricted due to how a user wants to be perceived by their online audience, facilitating the creation of a homogenised online identity. Therefore, social media’s construction of online symbolic markers brings into question the genuinity of a user’s identity. How we want to be perceived and how we are perceived, are always going to be different, therefore does an online identity reflect our true self, or is it just a digital practise for people to bring their ideal self into accord with their actual self?
Self-identifying via online activism could be perceived as one of these symbolic markers, which is facilitated to forge online self-promotion by users who seek digital acquisitions to obtain social prestige and acceptance from their online audience of friends and followers. Arm-chair activism, where the click of a few buttons gives the false sense of contribution to the eliminating of oppression in marginalized groups, could be viewed as middle-class digital practice of lifestyle glorification – virtue signalling by those who want to be seen as a comrade of emancipation.
You argue that identity is emphasised by the facilitation of social media. Do you mean that it is easier to identify a specific user because of the creation of a homogenised identity, or that social media allows for an individual to pick and choose an identity from the symbolic markers they choose to exhibit? In either case it sounds like identity is being branded and placed inside perversive platform designed for other people to heavily scrutinize before deciding to choose group or interact with said user. If we had the ability to do this in real life, I believe that real world interactions would become less genuine due to the segregation of similar minded individuals – a real life echo chamber.
Since the industrial revolution, the identity of individuals has evolved from the exhibition of ‘things’ which a person produces to the ‘things’ which a person consumes (de Solier, 2013). The things which we choose to consume have become more than just a means for survival and have developed into an individualised ideological marker that is used to exhibit our personalised identity (Hamilton & Denniss, 2005). As a Western consumer capitalist society, our day-to-day existence has become shaped by that which we consume – we are consumers. The act of consumption has become such an important part in the structuring of our lives that we actively and passively consume without much awareness of the act itself. This also includes the things which we decide to consume online.
In your paper you argue that promoting positive behaviours online, even if it’s only promoting, can influence positive change. This corresponds to the performance of ethical consumption practises. Littler (2010) explains, that ethical consumption is a symptom of an individualistic society where people are presented with the opportunity and responsibility for confronting numerous social problems through their consumption practises (Littler, 2010). Ethical consumption is used as a mark of social or cultural distinction: as a form of consumption used to distinguish against the less culturally well endowed. This could be argued that ethical consumption in the terms of promoting positive online behaviours could be an ideological marker for rejecting the contrary. This sounds along the same lines as virtual signalling, where the actions of publicly expressing sentiments are intended to demonstrate a person’s moral correctness on a particular issue. Because of the symbolic markers used to exhibit ones identity, these practises of ethical behaviour are performed only for personal vanity, yearning for ethical consumption distinction by an intended audience. Could this still be seen as a genuine behaviour? Or is it just the following of one’s moral compass to navigate a subjective righteousness in the eyes of others?
de Solier, I. (2013). Consuming Things: Material Cultures and Moralities of Consumption. Food and the self : Consumption, production and material culture (1st ed., pp 108-146). Bloomsbury Publishing. ProQuest Ebook Central http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Hamilton, C. and Denniss, R. (2005). What is Affluenza? Affluenza: When Too Much Is Never Enough (pp. 3-18). Allen & Unwin.
Littler, J. (2010). What’s wrong with ethical consumption? In T. Lewis & E. Potter, E. (Eds.), Ethical consumption: A critical introduction (pp. 27-39). Taylor & Francis. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Marwick, A. (2013). Online Identity. Companion to New Media Dynamics. pp. 355-364.Retrieved from: https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/curtin/reader.action?docID=3422436
Thanks for commenting so comprehensively on my paper. I don’t think it is unfortunate that you are sceptical and cynical when it comes to social media usage, I think you will find most people are; hence why I chose this topic.
Firstly, I will address your understanding of identity in virtual communities. In my opinion, social media allows us to emphasise and extend our identities, whether that be performative or not. You’re right in stating that how we want to be perceived and how we are perceived are always going to be different. This is the same for real life interactions as well; how we want to be perceived may not always be how we come across face-to-face. So, these interactions (online and offline) are all part of our collective identity. Virtual communities on social media can support us in building our collective identity by offering a platform where we can connect with each other and ourselves in new and alternative ways (Gerbaudo, Trere 2015). Therefore, does an online identity reflect our true self? Maybe not, but what does? Only verbal interactions? My answer is that our identity is fluid, fragmented and performed (Goffman, 1959), many different elements and attributes can contribute, including how we want others to see us and how we present ourselves online and offline.
You have suggested that practices of ethical behaviour are performed only for personal vanity. My paper argues that promoting positive behaviours online, even if it’s just promoting it for personal vanity, can still influence positive change by educating other networked publics. Activism online is a key part of how we protest our identities online to strengthen our own beliefs and values (Gerbaudo, Trere 2015). To answer your question, ‘could this be seen as genuine behaviour? Or is it just the following of one’s moral compass to navigate subjective righteousness in the eyes of others/?’ I have made direct reference to this, as well as the issue of virtue signalling, within my paper. To reiterate; even if the act is perceived as inauthentic, or shallow and ineffective, it is unlikely this is the result of malicious intentions. Getting involved in a movement because the online community that you identify with is supporting it can be beneficial for the movement in gaining traction and educating the wider community. I argue that this isn’t necessarily bad thing, as long users do their best not to spread misinformation or take part in a way that would harm the groups they’re advocating for. Sharing information can still educate others and we should constantly seek to engage in conversations and reflect on how we can better perform our identity in the offline world.
You mention that “identity is being branded and placed inside perversive platform designed for other people to heavily scrutinise before deciding to choose group or interact with said user.” I am curious if you genuinely think that social media platforms are designed for other people to heavily scrutinise each other before deciding to interact with each other? Personally, this is not my experience on social media platforms. While I agree that social media can be used to perform identities online, I also agree that our identity can be performed offline. Therefore, it is important to recognise the positive influence that self-identification and online activism contributes to strengthening ties in contemporary society.
Gerbaudo, P., Treré, E. (2015). In search of the ‘we’ of social media activism: introduction to the special issue on social media and protest identities, Information, Communication & Society, 18:8, 865-871, DOI: 10.1080/1369118X.2015.1043319
Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. New York: Anchor Books.
I agreed with you that social media platforms can connect people on opposite sides of the world within milliseconds. These are good platforms for the communities to share their thoughts, values and beliefs and influences positive changes. A good example is the #MeToo movement which expose the unfortunate sexual abuse of individuals and how they use it to fight for injustice and make perpetrators accountable.
Thanks to social media which has brought about positive changes and benefited us tremendously.
Thank you for your comment, I am glad you took the time to review my paper and agree with the argument. The #MeToo movement, as well as other significant online activism movements such as BLM are a good example when demonstrated the positive influence these platforms can influence.
If you would like to share the link to your paper Elaine, i would love to read it.
I absolutely loved reading your paper. I absolutely think that people should be talking about how social media can be used to carry out online activism. A large population of people use social media platforms regularly, so this is a great way to reach them and influence a positive change in real life.
I really like how you focused on the use of hashtags on Twitter to raise awareness and influence offline action on important issues. Twitter is often considered to be a negative space, so this was nice to see the positive ways this site can be used. I had no idea that Twitter had been the catalyst for many social movements, especially the #MeToo movement. This proves to me how important social media can be, anybody is able to advocate for justice and share their experiences tp on wide audience. Without social media, the number of people we could reach would definitely be limited. In my paper, I talked about how Twitter gives users the option to used to remain anonymous, unlike Facebook, and this creates a “safe” space to share content relating to mental health in the form of images, comments, news, videos and audios. Thus, it creates a non- intrusive and practical way to gather mental health discourse texts, which includes stigmatizing and discriminatory language (Makita et al., 2020).
Thanks so much for reading my paper and offering your insights, I have commented on your paper as well!There is no doubt that Twitter does have negative effects on society and identity, it can lead to a lack of self actualisation and disassociation from real life interactions (Elsayed, 2021). That being said, it is equally as important to highlight the positive influences twitter has had, especially on such a large scale like the #MeToo movement. I like the point you have made about Twitter creating a non-intrusive and practical way to gather mental health discourse in texts, its very relevant topic in modern day society.
Walaa Elsayed, W. (2021). The negative effects of social media on the social identity of adolescents from the perspective of social work. Heliyon, Volume 7, Issue 2,
Megan, I really enjoyed your paper on the effects digital activism have had on the representation of the self. Your argument for digital activism as a means to both express and extend a sense of self from virtual spaces into offline spaces is incredibly fascinating to me. The effects virtual networks and communities have on society can be a polarising debate, and you have done a good job arguing for one of the pros of virtual networks and communities with this paper. Hashtag activism, and indeed digital activism in a broader sense, has delivered to marginalised and minority groups a powerful weapon that has seen movement organisers and supporters mobilise and organise across issues and gain significant momentum. #MeToo and its various sister causes have garnered worldwide attention, and I’m honestly not sure if they could have achieved such success – at least, perhaps not so peacefully – without social networking sites and the various tools and technologies embedded in the infrastructure of these sites. I’m also not sure that we would have seen as much public outcry or such a global conversation around these issues without the support of mobile technologies in particular.
You mentioned that “[v]irtual communities offer certain affordances for users to self-identify online, extending their views and advocating for issues that their values align with”. But I do wonder if users who only ever engage in issues that align with their values can ever truly extend their views beyond their own way of seeing the ‘self’ and the ‘other’. Do you think that social media users and digital activists who only engage in issues that align with their values perpetuate polarising echo chambers?
Did you read Papacharissi’s ‘A networked self’? What do you think of his idea that social media platforms are a stage and its users are actors whom create online identities that are merely a performance, and that these performances differ across stages?
(Papacharissi, Z. (Ed.). (2010). Conclusion: A Networked Self. In Z. Papacharissi (ed) A Networked Self: Identity, Community and Culture on Social Network Sites. (pp. 304- 318). Routledge. )
In my paper, Change.org: Empowering everyday citizens to enact social change, I discuss how everyday citizens are engaged with digital politics and are motivated to leverage their connections across digital networks to enact social change. https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2021/2021/04/25/change-org-empowering-everyday-citizens-to-enact-social-change/#comment-1378
Grace Caley also delivers an incredible paper that I think you’d be interested in. She discusses identity, self-expression and bimbo feminism on TikTok. Here’s the link if you want to join in:
Have you read Kira Daaman’s paper? This paper argues that “While Twitter has become a third place for connecting feminists and supporting their movements through hashtags such as #MeToo and #TIMESUP, they have also highlighted the failure of slacktivism within the online communities. Whilst this paper takes the opposite stand to yours, it may provide further fodder for your topic and there’s some great discussion happening over there. Here’s the link: https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2021/2021/04/27/the-influence-of-slacktivism-on-feminist-movements/#comments
Thanks so much for engaging with my paper and also for sharing it within the LinkedIn group, I really appreciate it. I am glad that you have highlighted how there would not be such public outcry and global conversation if movements like #MeToo weren’t facilitated on social media.
To answer your question regarding on whether users who only engage with issues that specifically align with their values can ever truly extend their views beyond their ‘self’, I determine that while they can perpetuate an environment where the only beliefs or opinions coincide with their own, there is still the affordances on social media for alternate ideas and views to be interjected.
Your question prompted me to do some further research into echo chambers, I found a lot of articles on echo chambers and their alignment with political groups online rather than social movements. Bright (2017) explains in his paper that there is good evidence that these networks (the echo chambers) do create a divide, however we know little about the factors which might explain this division as studies have been limited due to limited possibilities for systematic comparison. The study also states how twitter users are, to a large degree, exposed to political opinions which agree with their own. I am definitely highly exposed to political opinions which align to my views in my personal Twitter feed, however there is also the affordance for me to read and search for alternate views. In most cases when I do find alternative views, it further enforces my opinion and support for my own political views. Do you see alternative political opinions shared on your social media? Or have you found it is in fact an ‘echo chamber’ by definition?
Yes, I have read Papacharissi’s ‘A networked self’, this is where I gained a lot of insight into definitions of identity to support my argument that they are an ever-evolving cycle of being presented, compared and adjusted (Papachrissi, 2010). I found a lot of ideas and definitions in this book to be extremely relevant to my argument, specifically how the author explains that it’s difficult to separate ourselves from our online identity. In terms of your question on my opinion of social media as a stage, I agree to a certain extent in that social media platforms do allow for users to perform their identities online, however, who is to say that performance is not our authentic self? Maybe the performed self is the authentic self or maybe it’s not a performance at all? I suggest that social media can be used as a tool to express our inner thoughts and feelings, which can be more authentic than real life. What are your thoughts on this?
Thanks for sharing some other papers with me, I have read and engaged with one of them but will definitely read yours and Grace’s as well.
Bright, J. (2017). Explaining the Emergence of Echo Chambers on Social Media: The Role of Ideology and Extremism. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2839728
Papacharissi, Z. (Ed.). (2010). Conclusion: A Networked Self. In Z. Papacharissi (ed) A Networked Self: Identity, Community and Culture on Social Network Sites. (pp. 304- 318). Routledge.
Hi Meg, thank you so much for your response. I am particularly glad to hear that I could prompt some further research – that truly excites me – and you have similarly furthered my research which I absolutely love!
My social media circle definitely produces a varied and diverse political voice. However, I would say that of my network there would be 3, maybe 4, very distinct ‘groups’ who would all echo the same sentiments on particular causes. I love that you admit that your Twitter feed supports your world view but that you are also keen to explore ideas beyond this. That is truly special, and I applaud your quest for knowledge because this is the true hero behind social change.
You make an excellent point that the self and the performance we carry out online can in fact be a representation of authenticity. I definitely agree with you that as we continue to learn and grow through gained knowledge and experience both online and offline, we can alter and change that representation which makes the self no less authentic. I do also think that to a certain degree, social media helps to amplify certain parts of ourselves and our identity that may not otherwise be expressed at all in the offline world. The same elements of SM users only posting a highlight reel can likely transfer over into the way we voice our opinions on certain political issues online? As in, it might feel safe to express views over other simply because we know certain topics/issues will be better received by our friends and family?
Thank you for such a great discussion, Meg!
Thanks for sharing your paper with me, it was an interesting read. I have found that it is mostly the negative effects of twitter activism and virtue signalling that are more commonly reported on, so it is refreshing to read an alternative point of view.
In relation to your example of the Me Too movement, do you think that this movement on Twitter was the catalyst for significant physical change? Or do you think it has just raised awareness and for the issue?
Looking forward to hearing back,
Thanks for reading my paper, I am glad you found it interesting. To answer your question on whether I think the #MeToo movement was the catalyst for change in the real-world or whether it just raised awareness for the issue, I say that it did both.
Historically, social media has not been highly regarded with enforcing physical change in common public discourse. Yet, it has played such an important part in influencing change and raising awareness for a number of significant social issues. Mendes, Ringrose and Keller (2018) discuss the challenges of this movement, discussing whether hashtags like #MeToo actually do anything or how they can produce social change. They conclude that the movement did bring make perpetrators (mainly white males) accountable, and in my opinion, this is proof that the movement does in fact influence change in the real world, as well as raising awareness for the issue.
Thanks again for commenting Liz 🙂
Mendes, K., Ringrose, J., & Keller, J. (2018). #MeToo and the promise and pitfalls of challenging rape culture through digital feminist activism. European Journal of Women’s Studies, 25(2), 236–246. https://doi.org/10.1177/1350506818765318
Hi Megan! I enjoyed your paper as it is a topic that I am really fascinated about. I liked how you said that it is important to recognise the positive impact of online activism as it is something that is really overlooked in this current environment. You could have used the term “hashtag activism” to refer to the use of hashtags in social movements such as the #MeToo movement. It is a term that was coined after the massive success of hashtags in building up public support through Twitter. One hashtag has the power of reaching millions of “would-be” activists as compared to traditional activism.
I was interested to learn about ‘virtue signalling’ and how people perform their identities online to seem as good people by advocating on their social media accounts. Do you think that it can discredit social media activism as being effective in the long-term?
Looking forward to hearing from you!
Thanks for the comment! It definitely is a topic that is over looked but has had a massive impact on contemporary society in one way or another. I came across the term “hashtag activism” a lot in my research and am not too sure why i didn’t include this term in my paper- next time i will.
Virtue signalling is an interesting one, originally, I was opposed it but the more i read about it the more i realised that even though it is a very performative act, it still has the power to raise awareness and spread important information to people who may not otherwise have seen it. One place where i do think virtue signalling can discredit activism in the long-term is corporate virtue signalling; this is when corporate organisations promote their positive virtues, particularly about gender equality or environmental issues, when really, they are doing more harm to the issue than good. Have you seen many cases of virtue signalling within your virtual communities?
Looking forward to hearing back from you!
Hi Megan! Very interesting to know that virtue signalling can have positive benefits for online activism. While reading more about this new term, I’ve mainly seen the negative aspects of performing the self online by joining social movements only for visibility and not for the cause in itself.
While I did not know that this specific term was used to describe this performative act, I did come across many cases of virtue signalling in my virtual community. Many young people are motivated to gain followers and one effective way that they can do so is by posting about popular social movements. They perform the role of a dedicated activist to gain more visibility and not really for the cause itself. But I totally agree with you, it still has the power to raise awareness and spread important information to people who may not otherwise have seen it. However, don’t you think that people partaking in virtue signalling reduce the chances of online activism translating into concrete on-ground actions?
I have also seen a lot of virtue signalling in my virtual community, especially around the Black Lives Matter movement or #BLM. Often, many influencers who were promoting #BLM on their profiles were then being called out for racism in their past. For example, influencer Alyssa Coscarelli (@alyssainthecity) was a massive advocate for BLM, until an old colleague of hers called her out for comments she had made towards her in a previous work environment. The influencer, Alyssa, then published a weak apology and removed herself from Instagram for three months.
In this circumstance, yes, I do agree that that people partaking in virtue signalling reduces the chances of online activism translating into concrete on-ground actions, because they become inauthentic sources losing their credibility as a person of influence. If you are interested in reading more about the situation around Alyssa and other influencers, check out this article here: