Major Project Update #1 -Social Activism, Easier said than Done?

After much preliminary research, and a whole lot of falling down the digital rabbit hole of social media campaigns it has turned out that a social activism project is easier said than it is done.

That is to say, an authentic, and meaningful campaign seems to require more than good intentions, and a strong belief that the work is important.

I would be lying to say I am not at all worried that my project choice was too idealistic.

What I have discovered has led me to make some changes to my plan. Firstly, when talking about Social Media Activism it’s important to note that is a term of course deriving from Social Activism which is:

“Social activism refers to a broad range of activities which are beneficial to society or particular interest groups. Social activists operate in groups to voice, educate and agitate for change, targeting global crises”.

Shahla Ghobadi

In a world that is more connected than ever, it is of course only natural that people of traditionally marginalized groups are turning to social media platforms as a medium of expressing their agency and advocacy. In many places, the approach is working to affect change or at very least, cause a conversation.

“From #Metoo, #TimesUp and #WeStrike to #NeverAgain and #BlackLivesMatter, social activists wield the power of the internet to pressure powerful organizations.”

Shahla Ghobadi

 While it’s true that social media can generate a high level of engagement with a topic, it’s also proven a useful tool in the anonymity it provides. This anonymity can sometimes act as a cover for individuals to voice opinions they might otherwise stay silent about. For instance as the 2019 Protests in Hong Kong demonstrate, even in societies in which a government controls much of the media narrative – social media and networking sites, as well as apps traditionally meant for another purpose can be useful tools in expressing dissent. The Hong Kong protesters most notably using the dating app Tinder or the popular game Pokémon Go to organize, gather and exchange tips on how to evade the police.

On the other side of the research is of course the two largest concerns with Social Media Activism.

-The ability to disengage with issues more easily by creating the illusion of activism

-The unintended consequences of Social Activism

To the first point, I will be the first to admit that when it comes to Social Media I am happy to throw out a like, or even repost something I see that relates to a social justice issue I care about. Occasionally for me this even translates to a donation, like to the Onaman Collective or actual volunteer hours like those that I do with the Cosmopolitan Learning Center here in Regina. But the vast majority of my online presence includes support in the form of a click.

“In the land of social media, the position of “armchair activist” is open to all. You can change your profile picture to raise awareness, share videos and articles and keep in touch with charities by liking their pages. Making a difference seems pretty easy in the digital age. But is your contribution any deeper than a click? It’s easy to click, but just as easy to disengage.”

Rosalie Tostevin

So while the Twitter based portion of my Social Activism Project focused on the TRC would account for the “awareness raising” aspect of Social Activism, there is a relatively good chance it would only mostly likely amplify the voices of those who are already engaged and not do much to tug others out of their metaphorical armchairs.

For this reason I have decided to work on something more unique to my interests and my purpose.

While my students and I have already started our journey into 100 Days of Cree (we are on Day 36), I have noticed that generally my tweets and shares do not usually echo beyond the community already taking part in the project. This could be because such comprehensive resources already exist when it comes to the project, including the book and PowerPoint mentioned in my previous post.

Therefore I have begun work on creating a Month of Michif resource that can accompany the Cree language program, while targeting a different marginalized community (the Métis ) and creating a resource for a language I find more difficult to find accurate teaching materials for. My hope is by specifying my focus on a different culture the initiative will stand apart, as well as I will have (as a Métis person myself) a more authentic approach to the project. You’ll find weekly updates on this each Monday on my Twitter or by following the #MichifMondays hashtag.

To the second issue with Online Activism, research conducted by The Conversation UK states that most of the Social Media Activism based messaging was largely reactive and emotive with the intent of virality to reach and mobilize as many people as possible.

While the information may still well be true and vital, the emotive response of those it reaches does little beyond invoking an outraged share or like. Shahla Ghobadi suggests that those seeking to take part in social media based activism instead spend more time creating and sharing information that helps to educate people on the underlying causes of a problem.

“Instead of focusing on the problem and the need for change, activists can share information that explains why and how the current situation has been created and what can be learned for the future. Online activism in such manner can gradually lead to the development of people who are capable of generating new knowledge and wisdom to respond to changing social environments.”

Shahla Ghobadi

It was this last quote that caused me to feel the first small sense of relief I have had in a while.

I do believe that meaningful social strategies that are reconciliatory in nature are urgent and important for many reasons, I believe that any awareness raising campaign that involves Indigenous Language Learning will eventually lend itself to building the capacity of both marginalized and non-marginalized groups to advocate for change in our current social environments.

Since intentional and explanatory information sharing seem to be the key to Online Activism that is meant to have an effect beyond emotional and reactionary responses, I have arrived at component number 2 to my major project – resource creation and sharing.

To accompany each week with the language sharing component on Social Media I will also share lesson plans with curricular connections here on the website that will eventually form a “Month of Michif” shareable PowerPoint, much like the “100 Days of Cree”.

Please follow along on this journey at #MichifMondays! Until next time,