Online Networks and Social Change

Social media has lead to apathy in regards to activism

Abstract:The abundance of Internet content and the movements that are started on there might be detrimental to the outcome of the movements. This is due to the overstimulation online the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement and the extermination rebellion was lessened after a while. While researching this topic there were not a lot of sources as the events only happened in the last year.

Due to a high rise in the volume of activism caused by the injustices faced by groups that are oppressed on a global scale, a number of online networks have experienced burnout. This burnout has led to dramatic rise of cynicism and a lack of empathy amongst users of these online networks. Racial tensions in the United States of America were high going into 2020, with the Baltimore protests and Salt Lake City protests in 2015 and 2016, the death of George Floyd caused nationwide protests in the US. Along with the actions of Greta Thunberg who called for action to be taken against climate change from the world super-powers. As well as the extinction rebellion that many people believe to be the last hope for humanity. These acts against the government to try and incite change for the good of people and for humanity.

The protests in the United States of America were to protest the police brutality and discrimination that occurred disproportionally towards people of African American descent. The protests that were sparked following the release of a video that depicted a police officer having his knee on the neck of civilian, George Floyd, the officer did not remove it even when George Floyd repeatedly said that he could not breath and was clearly in distress. Through the use of the internet, the footage of George Floyd’s death spread rapidly around the world (Oriola & Knight, 2020). the world was made aware of the injustice that Floyd experienced mainly through large social media platforms such as twitter and TikTok, these videos and reports spread so quick due to the fact that they appealed to the general populations sense of humanity. The surfacing of George Floyd’s case caused an uproar across all social media platforms as people tried to spread the message of injustice that had occurred (Oriola & Knight, 2020). The protests were instigated to evoke change in the way that the police were trained, the blatant racism and prejudice that many members of the police force hold towards African Americans, to force police to take responsibility of their actions and for them to be reprimanded for discrimination and situations of police brutality. The publicly displayed reactions of outrage were a loud call for change to the institutionalized racism that occurs in the United States of America (Samayeen, et al., 2020). The event that was initiated as a peaceful demonstration of the public’s outrage, was catapulted into a violent demonstration partly due to police prejudices against the African American community. The projected violence then gave the police an excuse to inflict unnecessary brutality on the demonstrators (Dave et al., 2020). The activism did not just limit itself to real life, there was a plethora of activists around the world who used social media to help the movement gain attention and to try an evoke some or any kind of change that was possible. Actors, singers, and a number of other celebrities took to their various social media platforms to promote and show their support to the Black Lives Matter movement, they also tried to encourage the following to sign petitions and do what they could. “The internet allows…movements to grow dramatically and rapidly, but without prior building of formal or informal organizational and other collective capacities.” (Dixon &Dundes, 2020). There was a media blackout where everyone posted a black image on their social media accounts, the sheer number of accounts that took part in #BlackoutTuesday on Instagram meant that a large number of people had seen the posts and as such a large number of people are also aware of the Black Lives Matter movement. The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States of America also led to a number of countries becoming aware of their own matters of police brutalities and injustices faced by black lives all across the world. This led to a number of countries holding their own Black Lives Matter protests and marches to try to make a change and to bring attention to the issues prevalent in their own countries. Following the American protests the protest around the globe was coordinated online, gather supporters that took to the streets during a pandemic to raise awareness of the issues (Giorgi et al., 2020). Making the issue a global one, not just about African American lives but the lives of all the oppressed communities around the globe. As the movement continued the initial impact that had started the movement had died down, as such people kept making posts about the situation, keeping attention on it, however there was an overstimulation in the media which dampened the impact of the message (Brown et al., 2020). Leading to people caring less about the issue this is just a natural occurrence of a high volume of the same information (Gorski, 2019). Meaning that activism suffers, leading to slower change in what is being fought for.

The protests that ensued following George Floyd’s death all across the United States of America, led to people taking a negative advantage of the situation. People who held no affiliation to the movement then used all these protests as a chance to loot businesses and cause unnecessary damage to. In the eye of the media and the politics surrounding the situation, peaceful protesters were then lumped together with looters and vandals who were in no way affiliated with the protest, nor people who cared about the issue of human rights (Samayeen, et al., 2020). The way that the protests were represented in the media, destroyed both the credibility of the protesters and the issue at hand. This invalid link between the protestors and looters led to an increase in the unnecessary force and violence that was instigated by the police, that the demonstrators were protesting about in the first place. This display of police brutality led to many unnecessary arrests and injuries incurred by the protestors (Jean, 2020). This cycle which is being shown leads people to believe that nothing will change as they are experiencing exactly what they are fighting against. The irony of the situation and just the general continued mistreatment of civilians in America, especially to the people protesting against this mistreatment led to people feeling as if it is futile to continue to protest to and to make a change or to put an end to an issue that has been around for decades (Brown et al., 2020). This altered the feeling of personal investment for a large amount of people who were so adamant in their support of this movement and altering their belief that the support of millions online could impact to political and social injustice systems (Brown et al., 2020). This movement continued to spread more through the use of online networks, with many people being influenced to do their part to foresee some kind of change, based off of seeing their own peers post and spread information about these issues of human right and discrimination (Kim & Hastak, 2018).

The call for social change is not limited to the change for African Americans in the United States, but also the issue of climate change, with the extinction rebellion starting in 2019. The aim of this movement is to create a spread awareness of the issue of climate change and how severe of an issue it is, this movement also is trying to gain the attention of politicians and leaders of large and powerful countries, so that a change can be implemented to put a stop to the issue of climate change (Shah, 2019). Much like the Black Lives Matter movement, the extinction rebellion movement gained traction through the use of various social media platforms (George, 2020). Through the use of these platforms information about the severity of this issue and how much of a global issue it is has been more easily spread and is more accessible to everyone on any of these social media platforms. The movement was supported by social media which informed people about the movement, allowing people to join and take part in the movement (Askanius & Uldam, 2020). The movement is about the extinction that the human race faces due to the climate crisis. The harsh reality that this movement puts forward is something that draws more people in to take action in order to try and create a more sustainable way to live on the planet without harming it more. Activists such as Greta Thunberg document what they are doing to gain as much social media attention as possible, doing so helps to ensure that people are aware of the global environmental issues occurring and information as to how to do your part to reduce the both the impact and cause of these issues (Karpus, 2018). This exposes themselves as well as their movement to more people other than those in their personal online network. In regards to the actions that Greta Thunberg did to raise information, she started off with protesting the lack of recognition of the climate change issue, which led to her gaining an opportunity to give a speech at a United Nations meeting, following these events which was reported on by a number of media outlets, Thunberg started to gain a large following online of other students who shared the same passion she did to put a stop to climate change (Dauvergne, 2021). Greta Thunberg’s influence online sparked a pattern of protests against climate change all around the world (Thunberg, 2020). Seeing as majority of these events and actions took place in the year 2019, and seeing as since then there has not been any drastic changes apart the bans on plastic, implemented in a number of countries, many previous supporters of the movement have lost their passion.

In the age of online interactions, social media has introduced a new way to make and maintain networks. Through the use of social media people can inform their entire online network about what they want and what they stand for. This was taken advantage of during the protests that emerged during 2020 in response to multiple injustices, human rights issues and environmental issues occurring globally. Online networks were utilized during the year 2020 through the rapid spreading of information about the Black Lives Matter movement as well as the extinction rebellion movement both of which had roots online. The Black Lives Matter movement resurged in 2020 following footage of the murder of George Floyd during his arrest which circulated online. The extinction rebellion movement is more dependent on social media, as their aim is to gain global recognition this could only occur through the use of various social media platforms. However, with the amount of social change and the global issues that are promoted on nearly all social media platforms and other online forums, users are starting to experience an oversaturation of content (Dhir, et al., 2019). This oversaturation has led to people to stop caring as much and with a general sense of doom overcoming the majority of people. Where even though there is a lot of work put into the movements nothing is really changing in the systems in place.


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Brown, T. N., Culver, J., Bento, A., & Gorman, Q. (2020). The Prevalence, Correlates, and Consequences of Racial Apathy Among Black Teenagers. Journal of African American Studies24(4), 611-626.

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6 thoughts on “Social media has lead to apathy in regards to activism

  1. Hi Ali,

    I think a number of these issues have to do with where people get there news from, even on social media. Obviously traditional media outlets often have political sides they lean on, but the same goes for social media. In the case of the George Floyd protests, participants were either ‘looting’ or ‘protesting’ depending on who you follow on social media outlets. I saw a lot of that on Twitter which was pretty interesting how two people disect the same piece of footage depending on who they vote for.

    I think the ‘burnout’ is pushed by people trying to squash these issues and people’s voices which they don’t agree with. I think these online movements have strong, ongoing backing. I think the bigger movements are now starting to rise over the top and push forward for real change. Amanda makes a good point about the Chauvin convictions, as it seems like it might be the start of change in offline spaces in terms of racial justice in America. However, its often one step forward, ten steps back with this issue.

    I believe there is a lot of care for important issues online, just not everyone wants to voice it on social media. It just occasionally takes longer to get into users purview, which has more to do with algorithms then interest.

    Thanks mate,

  2. Hi Ali, I have to say I’m a little confused by your paper, as the title and conclusion seem to directly contradict most of what you’ve said within it.

    You’ve given a number of great examples of how online activism has actually increased awareness and action for these two movements. Certainly, we can see that the BLM movement has continued to gain momentum recently, unfortunately, due to a number of other police shootings of black civilians, but seeing Derek Chauvin both charged and convicted recently shows that changing attitudes are having a real effect on justice, especially if you compare it to just a few years earlier when the officer who killed Michael Brown was NOT charged by a grand jury.

    Also, anecdotally, I have certainly seen a real increase in awareness of environmental issues and individuals and businesses making positive changes in that regard. Karena’s comment above also gives quantitative evidence that this is the case.

    Can you tell us a bit more about what has led you to the opinion that nothing is changing, and that online activism leads to apathy? It would be great to be able to better understand where you’re coming from here.

    1. The case of Derek Chauvin was a great example however would his case been so public if there weren’t such a publice outcry? This is why I stated that people are care less about activisms as theres no change from the governement to support a change within the system of creatung and training new officers.
      While there has been an increase in awareness there hasn’t been an increase in change and I chose to delve into this in regards to climate change becasuse the window of time for change is closing and policies and governments move too slow to impact any meaningful change.

      1. Aha, I see what you mean now! You are definitely right that things aren’t happening fast enough – in regard to either of these examples. Real change needs to happen immediately – or really, long ago – and we definitely need to be careful not to settle for small improvements or token changes.

  3. Hello Ali,

    I read your paper with interest, as it appears to directly contradict my paper, found here:, where I show that climate change activism has instead increased in both popularity and effectiveness in the last two years. Please refer to my paper to see exactly how I support this idea. I do not believe people have stopped caring about climate action. I cite information which shows that, while the number of physical protests by the Fridays for Future movement has fallen during the current pandemic, the number of activists attending protest events has continued to rise to somewhat level out at around fourteen million “strikers” currently. To me, this shows that climate change activists are so passionate about the need for change that even a global pandemic cannot hold them back!

    Much of climate change activism is not intended to achieve immediate physical results (although this would be wonderful!), but instead to pressure governments and policy makers to act. Munoz et al. (2018) found a positive correlation between pro-environmental protests and results which reduce CO2 emissions. Fisher and Nasrin (2020) cite a lot of research to show that protests are very effective in achieving government action to introduce environmental laws and the government agencies to enforce them.

    Recent events show that action in this area is being achieved. An article by Mocatta and Harris (2021) found here: and published only four days ago detail the steps governments are now taking to combat climate change. Many key polluting countries have promised cuts in greenhouse gas emission ranging from 46% to 78% in the next ten to fifteen years. In addition, around 120 countries are dedicated to meeting zero carbon emissions targets by 2050. According to a survey of 1.2 million people in 50 countries, 64% believe climate change is a “global emergency”. To me, these results reflect the effectiveness of online climate change activism and challenge the idea that social media leads to apathy where activism is concerned.
    I look forward to debating this topic with you.

    Regards, Karena

    1. While the amount of activists has remained or increased as you have stated I based my paper more on the lack of vast improvement from governing bodies. With change not being done fast enough and as such sustaining the negative aspects that impact climate change.

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