Category Archives: activism

The Potential of Social Media Activism

The word activism makes me think about protests, signs, marches and fighting for change – trying to make the world a better place.  But this is only one part of the picture.

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Photo Credit: Fibonacci Blue Flickr via Compfight cc

Simply defined, activism is  “taking action to effect social change” and involves efforts that “promote, impede, direct, or intervene in social, political, economic, or environmental reform“.  In other words, activism can have both positive and negative effects on the social agenda of specific groups.

For the purpose of our class, we discussed activism through social media and were asked to consider the following questions:

Can online social activism be meaningful and worthwhile? Is is possible to have productive conversations about social justice online? What is our responsibility as educators to model active citizenship online?

What is social media activism?

Social media activism is essentially using the platform of an online forum to lead or support a cause. It’s activism behind a screen.” (The Journal – Queen’s University)

“Bringing change or awareness about a cause through the use of social media, by posting or sharing ones thought about a particular event or issue.” (Life of Anna)

These definitions are very basic, but “social media activism” is somewhat self-explanatory – it is activism using social media. It could be liking or sharing a post on Facebook or using a hashtag in online posts to bring awareness to a particular issue.  If you use social media, you have probably viewed or participated in hashtag activism:

You may have added a filter to your Facebook profile picture to temporarily support a cause. Or clicked the retweet button to raise awareness while drinking your morning coffee. The question we must ask ourselves is if social media activism is meaningful and worthwhile and looking at the positive and negatives is one way to explore the answer.

Pros of Social Media Activism

“Successful maneuvering of social media platforms creates significant changes in society through the impact of an individual who cultivates awareness and makes knowledge accessible to millions.” Human Rights Education Research Outreach

Social media activism can:

  • Spread a message to a large audience very quickly
  • Organize events easily (like the Women’s March)
  • Allow marginalized groups to express their views freely

Using the power of networks, “online activism allows activists to organize events with high levels of engagement, focus and network strength” (The Conversation).  The ability to share, like and retweet instantly allows movements and causes to gain traction very quickly and draw in a large audience.  For example, when a tragic events occur, vigils are planned, shared and attended in a short time frame, all thanks to social media.  Larger events are organized in locations all over the world through hashtags and social media posts.

Greta Thunberg stops by City Hall, tells Mayor Valérie Plante she’s “still very overwhelmed” by the march today in Montreal. Calls crowd of 500,000 “unbelievable.” #climatestrikemontreal pic.twitter.com/Mz8vYrjXjU

— T’Cha Dunlevy (@TChaDunlevy) September 27, 2019

Finally, the good, badly and ugly part of the Internet is that you can post and support whatever you want at any time.  A positive example is that people all over the world can be part of Pride festivals, even if they are unable to attend in person.

One of the greatest things about social media is the platform it can give to otherwise isolated and marginalized people. Entire communities have developed and grown together over social media, and this has exponentially strengthened many activism campaigns. Social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter allow people to organize events and communicate on a medium that is accessible to anybody who has an email address, internet, and some kind of connectable device. This vastly increases potential audience size, and ultimately increases the possible effect that these campaigns can have on policies, politics, and everyday life.The Power of Social Media in Modern Activism

Cons of Social Media Activism

“The ease with which current social movements form often fails to signal an organizing capacity powerful enough to threaten those in authority.” Zeynep Tufekci

Unfortunately, social media activism has drawbacks:

  • #Slacktivism
  • Spreading misinformation
  • Unable to promote “real” change

A 2014 Maclean’s article explains that a “slacktivist is someone who believes it is more important to be seen to help than to actually help. He will wear a T-shirt to raise awareness. She will wear a wristband to demonstrate support, sign a petition to add her voice, share a video to spread the message, even pour a bucket of ice over her head.”  All of this takes place instead of offering time or money which could truly help a cause.

Image result for actions speak louder than like buttonsMy classmate Brooke dives into a deep discussion of #slacktivism and a few articles that explain and criticize the movement.  She included this image (shared in class by Dr. Couros) that highlights the problem with #slacktivism.

“If our desire for social change extends beyond the resolution of a single issue, we need to close our laptops, turn off our phones, and spend time in the presence of others.” – The Walrus

With the ease of liking and sharing posts or adding a hashtag, it is inevitable that the wrong information will be passed along.  #FakeNews is a perfect example of deliberately sharing misinformation, which was particularly problematic during the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election#Kony2012 is another example of a movement that exploded on social media without really understanding the true facts.  Social media activism has the potential to raise awareness, spread a message quickly and help grow a movement.  But it is important to not disregard the power of slow-growing, face-to-face, grassroots organization. Wael Ghonim (an Internet activist that helped organize the social media campaign during the #ArabSpring) discusses challenges facing social media today and how it can be used to promote real change:

Before we can have conversations about social justice online, I think it is important to discuss the concept of a digital citizen and to understand three different ideas of citizenship as discussed by Westheimer and Kahne in the article, “What Kind of Citizen“.

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Screen-captured image from class with Dr. Couros
  • Participatory – actively participates
  • Personally Responsible – acts responsibly in their community
  • Justice-Oriented – seeks to understand root cause

Katia Hildebrandt writes about the Digital Citizenship Guide in Saskatchewan Schools , which explains that,

“digital citizenship asks us to consider how we act as members of a network of people that includes both our next-door neighbours and individuals on the other side of the planet and requires an awareness of the ways in which technology mediates our participation in this network.” 

With this knowledge, we are able to explore the possibilities of using social media to talk about social justice issues online.  Below, I have shared Brooke’s (she made some excellent points in her post this week!) example of how each type of citizen may participate, using the food bank as an example:

The personally responsible citizen might donate money to the food bank online or share an article about how the food bank is in need of donations.

The participatory citizen might create an online fundraiser, like a GoFundMe page, where people can donate to the food bank and use their social media page to highlight some of the issues related to perceived injustices regarding food security. They may also decide to volunteer at the food bank.

The justice-oriented citizen might use their social media page to share potentially controversial articles, and viewpoints which spark discussion about the root causes of food security, inviting others to join the discussion and organizing followers to contribute to participating in working towards social change in online and offline spaces.

The conversations about social justice can happen online, but they are more effective when they are rooted in offline organizational efforts.  Another point is that online discussions should take place with the intent to promote change or raise awareness, rather than use the post for personal gratification (for example, getting lots of likes or shares).  But how do we teach our students to use social media to have meaningful conversations about social justice issues online?

Educator Responsibility

As educators teaching students who only know a world with social media, we should:

In Spring 2018, I participated in a joint Regina Public Schools/Regina Catholic Schools project called #YQRActivistArt.  The project involved bringing the Landfill Harmonic Orchestra to Regina with an opportunity for our students to see the group perform live. To participate in the project, you had to commit to producing an art project in response to a social issue.  Through planning and collaboration with other classes, our students chose social issues they wanted to explore and created an art piece to raise awareness about the issue.  Every school did something different, and my students presented their projects in a school wide gallery opening:

The reason I share this story is because of the importance of teaching activism in schools. My students were engaged, motivated and excited to spread awareness and it allowed us to have conversations about meaningful and worthwhile ways to share information about different social issues.  The guide, “Facilitating Activist Education” explains by teaching about activism, students may become “engaged citizen-activists – people who see themselves as capable of affecting positive change for social and ecological justice”.

By starting with offline activism experiences for our students, we can then move online with confidence.

“Edtech, at its very core, is about privilege” – Katia Hildebrandt

Hildebrandt explains that by participating in social media activism, we take a few things for granted, like access to educational tools, computers and the Internet.  With this privilege, she adds that “we have a responsibility to risk our privilege to give voice to social inequities and injustices. We have a responsibility to risk our privilege to give voice to those who have no privilege to risk.”  Furthermore, as educators we have the responsibility to teach our students about this privilege. Wasting our time with #slacktivism is not an option because we have the power and ability to promote real change with our access to edtech tools and social media to support these efforts.

Jeffrey Knutson explains that, “we need to teach digital and media literacy in the context of empathy and understanding each other’s differences. Talk about integrity, the importance of humility, and other important SEL (social and emotional learning) skills while working on digital citizenship and media literacy.” He also provides two Common Sense Education tools to lead the teaching and learning: SEL Toolkit for Educators and the Digital Citizenship and SEL Guide.

Finally, Yes Magazine shares four tips for using social media activism:

  1. Take advantage of interactive activism opportunities in online communities
  2. Make sure your activism is accessible and inclusive
  3. Remember that small steps are critical to getting the work
  4. Share the work that other activists are doing

To engage our students, we need to provide relevant tools and information to “speak their language” (using social media and edtech). Through conversations of digital citizenship and offline activism, we have the ability (and responsibility) to mold the next generation as informed and compassionate citizens who care about social justice issues.  Let’s use social media to make the conversation relevant for our youth.

“Social media activism is great for so many reasons: It is more widely accessible, it gets conversations started, it sustains momentum, and it helps empower people who may have never thought of themselves as activists.”Yes Magazine

Until next time,

@Catherine_Ready

Technology Is Equitable; People Are Not.

This week’s debate had me all over the place.  Thinking of the phrase: “technology is a force of equity in society” has many sides and angles to consider and there is not one straight answer: yes or no.  I found there was a lot of mixed reviews throughout our 1.gifdebate, and many elaborations for our reasons we think it is or isn’t.  For example, yes, technology can be a force of equity because it is creating opportunities where they were limited before or no, it is not a force of equity because there is not equal access around the globe.  These types of ideas were incredibly important to our debate this week, and I think through a lot of thinking post-debate, I have established that we may not be there yet, but we are working towards solutions for this inequity.

The agree side this week did a fantastic job opening the floor and I found myself agreeing with all the points that Jen, Dawn and Sapna shared.  Their major points included the removal of barriers in education and skills, the use of open education resources creating equality through education, and then focused on the idea that the corporate system is the reason that technology is inaccessible for people in a lower socio-economic status and not the tech itself, and not the tech’s fault itself, showing that the tech isn’t creating inequity, but people by making these devices which have now become a necessity, cost too much money to afford.people using smart phones sitting at a table

The disagree side of Amy S, and Rakan countered well including some important ideas I would have never thought about in my internal debate.  Their main ideas circled around tech creating bias, gender abuse, and racism online, as well as digital colonialism and economic inequality.

As a said before, I found myself agreeing with all the points the agree team shared.  I see technology remove barriers all the time in the classroom.  I actually once saw a two men sitting at Tim Horton’s using their cellphones and a translating app to communicate with their voices and have a real conversation.  It made me so happy that technology has been able to reach a point where we can communicate with one another and create friendships with people that do not necessarily share a common language.2.gif

As for the classroom, I know I would have been in a real bind if I did not have my technological resources for teaching.  I have taught A LOT of different subject matter and without open resources and the World Wide Web, my knowledge would have been much more limited as well as the material for my students would have been much simpler as I would be scrambling for activities and ideas on my own.  For example, my first year I original-846541-1taught Law 30.  Where did I turn but to the internet to find different ideas and resources to help supplement the material.  I even found an activity to look at the laws often broken in different fairy tales and create a trial for the characters.  Would I have been able to come up with this idea without technology?  No way!  It helped make my life less stressful and created equity in a situation where I was at a disadvantage.

There are also many assistive technologies out there to help students including Google Write&Read.  Many students struggle with getting their ideas on paper and these types of apps help create an equity in the classroom so they too, can reach the outcomes of other students.  However, access to these apps can be difficult if you do not have access to the technology which is what the disagree side countered.

3.gifCost is a major downside to education as well as creating equity in the classroom.  And like Amy R. said in her blog this week, Technology should be accessible to everyone because it has become essential to live.  It has become a basic human right to be able to access this information and these devices yet corporations will not lower the price on devices, making it difficult for people of a lower socio-economic status to get access.  People may argue that there is free access in libraries, and schools, but not everyone has direct access to a building like that.  Sunny Freeman’s article states that even in Canada, only 62% of low-income quartile has access to the internet and it is difficult to dispute.  Have you ever gone camping in a rural/northern part of Saskatchewan?  Little to no internet access or even service exists! 4 So like, the agree group said, we can fix this!  We just need to lower the costs on devices, and create more opportunities for access in order to lessen the digital divide felt everywhere in the world, not just Canada.

Daniel also made a great point in his blog this week: “Some affluent people thus think by simply dumping the highest tech in the poorest places in society, inequality will be solved.”  This will not solve our problem when there is no education to help those educators or students use the technology and unlock its potential for the classroom and for their future.  If we are going to increase technology use in the classroom, we need to also increase the professional development and resources for teachers to USE the technology as well.

UNRWA_Gaza5(2).jpgI think it is super important that if we are going to increase technology and use programs like One Laptop Per Child, they need to be used appropriately in order to avoid digital colonialism which is what Amy and Rakan hinted at in their opening video.  It’s a very thin line between introducing and advancing a third world country and pushing Western beliefs on an already established society.  For example, in this article, Facebook is offering free internet to places with low economic status but with a catch.

The following statement is from ‘It’s digital colonialism’: how Facebook’s free internet service has failed its users, and can definitely be considered a negative for what should be a positive movement towards digital inclusion:

“Free Basics is a Facebook-developed mobile app that gives users access to a small selection of data-light websites and services. The websites are stripped of photos and videos and can be browsed without paying for mobile data.

Facebook sees this as an “on-ramp” to using the open internet: by introducing people to a taster of the internet, they will see the value in paying for data, which in turn brings more people online and can help improve their lives.”

The catch is that they cannot access all the internet, only a few select sites and they need to pay more for more access.  This in my opinion does not create equity, but increases the divide showing “you can afford this” or “you can’t afford this.”  This idea is also restricting language, with the majority options being only in English, and if that’s not a Westernized view/Digital Colonialism, then I don’t know what is!

Dhanaraj “Thakur believes a better solution would be to give low-income groups a limited amount of free data to access the open web” and I agree.  Why not?  What is the harm?  Unless the corporations in charge have a hidden agenda behind enabling these communities with a more Western view.

Another solution to the idea of making education more accessible is Open Education Resources (OERs), Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and Virtual Classrooms.  Having these types of resources online have created a lot of opportunity for remote classrooms and cities.  They may not have the resources physically, but they can access the information online ending the digital divide.

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Via Flickr

The article, Analysis: How OER Is Boosting School Performance and Equity From the Suburbs to the Arctic shows how students and classrooms in Kotzebue, Alaska are able to still access high-quality materials within budget cuts and limited resources. Layla Bonnot says, “With OER, districts can adapt content to meet their local needs, maximize education budgets, and ensure access to resources and educational rigor. By being able to serve all students — whatever their race, gender, ethnicity, language, disability, family background, or family income — OER supports the goal of educational equity.”

Of course, there are still other down-sides that are creating unequitable circumstances like the ideas of gender and racial bias online, and that AI could possibly be racist and learning its racist behaviours from humans, but I hope that we are moving in a positive direction away from these ideas.  Lizzie O’Shea stated in her article that technology’s biases are not bad necessarily, as long as we recognize them as such and move towards making these racial and gender roles more neutral.

0447f-thinkstockphotos-179079064O’Shea said,  “To make the most of this moment, we need to imagine a future without the oppressions of the past.  We need to allow women to reach their potential in workplaces where they feel safe and respected.  But we also need to look into the black mirror of technology and find the cracks of light shining through.”

And after listening to both sides of the debate, I couldn’t agree more.  We are imperfect, so our tech is imperfect too.  As long as we recognize our faults, and are trying to work towards solutions, then I think we are accomplishing something.  Is technology creating equity in society?  In some cases yes, and in some cases no.  Technology is not going anywhere, and it is becoming a more crucial part of life and should be demanded by all of society.  It has huge potential to create equity in all walks of life, but it is how we go about making sure it is accessible, fair, and neutral to everyone that is the most important part.

einstein

 

Social Media – An Outlet for Our Children

When I began this week, I stood firmly on the agree side when the question was asked, “Is social media ruining childhood?”  Of course, social media is ruining childhood!  How couldn’t it be?  Why do I not see children gathering outside?  Playing hopscotch?  Skipping?  Shooting hoops?  Riding bikes with their friends?  Using their imagination to build forts?  Because, social media controls their lives.

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Click here for 25 things you don’t see anymore; and maybe some nostalgia too!

They no longer need to go find their friends, play these games, or use their imagination the way I did growing up, because they have a device that connects them to their friends, their device has the games, and their device allows them to be creative in other ways.  Is this entirely a bad thing?  No, I don’t think it is.

 

After the debate this week, I had many thoughts on the topic.  I thought both sides of the debate did a fantastic job: Melinda, Allysa and Lori has some excellent points that made me nod my head and solidified my idea that social media is ruining childhood.  They discussed the rise in anxiety, and cyber-bullying online, as well as the pressure kids feel to fit in, and how many of these problems are because children ignore the age restrictions, and parents are left in the dark – oblivious, or conscious of these decisions.

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The disagree side is what started to sway me: Erin, Brooke and Daniel made some strong arguments towards the positives of social media, including the idea that it strengthens children’s relationships, creates a community, and they become more aware than children of past generations.

After both of these arguments, my original ideas were up in the air.  I think the biggest difficulty for me was that I was stuck on the nostalgic idea of what my own childhood was like and that kids today were missing out!  There was so much good before technology took over and I remember creating my own fun in the backyard, riding my bike all over town to meet up with friends, the new addition of MSN to my teenage years, and no social media.  I grew up in the nineties and I am in awe at how fast things changed.  I think I was stuck in the idea that I had the best childhood, so of course social media is ruining now-a-days children’s childhood because they are having such different experiences than I did 20 years ago.

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Once I got past the idea that children today aren’t missing out; their childhood is just different with different opportunities and different challenges.  I think yes, there are a lot of potential risks of over-using social media, and the risk of addiction for teens is very real.  I had a couple of grade nines almost cry when I took their phones away for one day for a health experiment.  Cyber-bullying is also a very real concern, and it is something I deal with daily in a high school setting.  Unfortunately, cyber-bullying is worse than just bullying because it can follow a child home, and follows them every time they log online.  This infograph does an excellent job of explaining just how prominent cyber-bullying is, and the different ways it is visible to teens.

However, as the disagree team pointed out, the online world can also be a great place for community development and support.  When I am teaching about mental health, I always suggest using online resources to find supports if students are struggling but after Monday, it clicked.  Students develop their own communities and support groups online social-media-community-cohesionfor isolation, bullying, gender inequality, racism, etc.  and this is awesome!!  Another point the disagree team made was that students are able to explore their interests and ideas online, making connections to other students all over the world who are like-minded individuals and all of a sudden, they aren’t alone anymore and I think that is fantastic.  Of course, there are risks associated with this idea, like pedophiles profiling and “cat-fishing” young children into meeting up or earning trust to have children partake in risky behavior, however, this is where education is key.  Parents also need to be aware of the behavior of their children and not let them loose online.  Teach them and discuss social media etiquette.

The article, The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents, and Families had some great tips specifically for pediatricians to help parents talk to their children about social media:

  1. Advise parents to talk to their children and adolescents about their online use and the specific issues that today’s online kids face.
  2. Advise parents to work on their own participation gap in their homes by becoming better educated about the many technologies their youngsters are using.
  3. Discuss with families the need for a family online-use plan that involves regular family meetings to discuss online topics and checks of privacy settings and online profiles for inappropriate posts. The emphasis should be on citizenship and healthy behavior and not punitive action, unless truly warranted.
  4. Discuss with parents the importance of supervising online activities via active participation and communication, as opposed to remote monitoring with a “net-nanny” program (software used to monitor the Internet in the absence of parents)

The real goal is to help students develop a positive online identity and understand the consequences of posting risky photos or videos online.  Just because you do something when you are young, means it will follow you online for the rest of your lives.  They need to understand that the things they say and do on social media is permanent and can harm their futures.  I think this is also why, as teachers, we need to teach healthy digital citizenship to children from a young age, so that when they reach adolescence, they are better equipped to navigate this online world.

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On top of this, students are more aware of their country, and the world they live in.  Having instant connection to social media and news, things spread fast and they are on top of it.  Often students are advocating for causes, researching bias of opinion and using social networking sites to trend important issues like #blacklivesmatter, #metoo, #prayfordouglas, or even something like #humboldtstrong.  These kids have power at their finger tips, and once they realize it, things could start happening for our future, and our planet.  The Learning Network says, “We’ve become the most tolerant and conscious generation to date, with 76 percent of Gen Zers concerned about humanity’s influence on the Earth and 60 percent hoping the job they choose impacts the world.”  I think a large part of this is due to social media, in creating an open dialogue for a lot of these issues, like climate change, racism, gender equality, political campaigns, mental health awareness, and so many more.  People are able to connect with others online, and start discussions that matter, whereas in the past, we have been limited to the beliefs of the people around us physically.

What-children-need-most-1.jpgI think Melinda had a great point, when she said in her blog, “There needs to be a balance, kids need to be kids and play outside, rough house, interact, etc. They don’t need to have 24/7 screen time, they need to be active and imaginative.”  And to sum up, I think social media can be a great outlet for children, but it is not the only outlet.  Like Melinda said, kids still need to be kids, explore, and develop in the real world, be active and engaged, but I think there are a lot of great things we can expect from this generation as they become more tolerant, and engaged in the issues occurring in our world.