Social media plays significant role where traditional media fails

Alisha Agard

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Illustration by Eddy Vazquez.

August 9, 2014. The nation stood still as people were glued to their televisions and computers, watching a story play out whose ending we knew all too well. An unarmed black teenager was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo. With the news came lots of speculation and debate about whether or not this teenager deserved to be shot. Residents of Ferguson became enraged by the way  the situation was handled. After he was shot dead, Michael Brown laid in the street for four hours before anyone came and took him away. Nobody arrested the police officer who killed the boy, and over a month later, he still walks free.

The residents of Ferguson decided it was time to put a stop to the police brutality, and for days they organized in the street. Police met the protests with a militarized response, shooting rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowds. Things got so bad that it started to look like a war zone instead of a neighborhood of mourning individuals. Live streams of the events shocked the world and ignited anger in communities around the nation. It was time for people all over the United States to take action and fight against the blatant racism and police brutality that has taken the lives of many people of color.

The use of social media has played a great part in organizing protests around the nation, but there has also been a bit of backlash against the Twitter and Facebook activism that started to take place. One argument against social media activism is that it is an insignificant measure to create change. I definitely do not agree.

Twitter was my main news outlet during the Ferguson uprisings because people who were actually on the ground –– and being shot at with rubber bullets and tear gas –– were tweeting to keep others informed. The mainstream news only focused on the question of whether Michael Brown deserved to die, so my only accurate information came from Twitter. It was individuals on Twitter who spread the word about a last-minute national moment of silence, and who started a Google Doc indicating where protests were happening in major cities. Had I not seen that on Twitter, I wouldn’t have known, and I would not have been able to physically stand in solidarity with Ferguson.

Social media activism does not end the problems of the world, but it definitely gets conversations going. We live in a day and age where most of us are glued to our iPhones, Androids and computers. Many of us who tweet have access to the millions of people who also tweet. A simple retweet can be seen by many, and if they retweet, information and knowledge spread like wildfire. Given the amount of people who use some form of social media, outreach via social media is extremely beneficial to the cause of creating change. Social media activism is important because people who may not be comfortable with on-the-ground activism can still play a role without the risk of being arrested or shot with rubber bullets.

Who are we to not use social media as an agent of change? Knowledge is power, and being informed is also powerful because you can’t make change if you don’t know what’s going on. Instead of posting statuses, tweets and Tumblr posts about how “dumb” social media activism is, use that time and energy to join the cause. You’d be surprised to see just how meaningful it actually is.

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