It is interesting to think about what role social media might have in the future of activism. There are always petitions circling around social media, where our Facebook friends encourage us to add our name to a Cause.
I confess, I have added my name to many social media petitions that I agree with, but I have never donated money online. I think many of us feel more comfortable donating to a personal face. If this is true…
Can social networks facilitate a more significant quantity of fundraising? Are they limited to raising awareness? Is this a problem?
Some possible answers…
Social Media Activism: A Slacktivism Gallery
There is an article, The Structure of Online Activism, that details a study of online activism related to the “Save Darfur Facebook Cause” studied from 2007-2010. The study essentially concluded that there may be “an inverse relationship between broad online social movement mobilization and deep participation” (7). Over one million people had joined the Cause on Facebook, but the majority did not donate through this site. It could be that it is assumed by many individuals that one of the other million will do something or that those individuals actually did donate to this Cause through in-person donations through, coworkers, friends, or family. If they already donated they might not want to donate twice and instead sign their name in support.
The Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness for ALS, in the last few years, is an example that while social media may be an invaluable resource for raising awareness, it is questionable if social media activism or petitions lead to further activism or increased fundraising amounts. No doubt many individuals made ice bucket videos and challenged their friends to do the same without donating through the same medium of social media.
A Collection of videos that Convey Different Responses to being Challenged in the Ice Bucket Challenge. From Responsible to Virtually Pointless:
This assortment of videos is interesting because while some make it a point to donate rather than dump ice on themselves, others do both, and some clearly distort the meaning of the challenge and turn it into a “funny” game. Even more interesting is that even some of the celebrities trying to gain exposure and the video fails at least mention the Cause for ALS, so they might still serve for raising awareness. It could ultimately be a good thing that some took a less serious approach. The Ice Bucket Challenge fails video does have over 4 million views.
“only a fraction of Cause members ever engaged in any type of ‘activism’ beyond the basic act of joining…More and more people did less and less” (2).
The article suggests that Causes are likely to be more successful when fewer people who are more likely to participate, due to personal connection, are invited to join. We experience these in-person requests all the time. People tend to be more comfortable giving money face to face, like in a workplace fundraiser or through a close group of friends. Individuals are likely to donate more in these situations than to an online source. One could potentially raise more money from 20 close friends than 100 Facebook friends. Through analyzing data, the study concluded: “that the most active members were attracted to the Cause for reasons independent of peer influence” (3). The active individuals are more likely to spread awareness and encourage friends to get involved. It is interesting to think about the different communities: online v. in-person. There is likely more peer pressure or desire to impress in in-person social situations (there is a shared understanding that coworkers donate to proposed fundraisers—we can’t be seen as other than a team player) and a need to preserve social standing. With online communities the pressure is less, there is distance, and as noted earlier millions of other individuals who can contribute.
In social media activism perhaps raising awareness should be the main driving force. It is noted that many people do donate to charitable causes in other, more personal, forms and social media do have a strong track record in sharing information. In social media a larger combined awareness might be the ultimate goal. One it is already achieving.