The social media revolution has had a profound effect on activism. Many activists have embraced the role of “digital organizer,” creating tools, networks and strategies that help others build power. For a grassroots activist, social media has also created a way to overcome their hesitation about speaking up to turn them from a spectator into a fearless activist.
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There is a revolution happening right now in the world of online activism and community engagement. It’s an evolution of the traditional concept of activism and it’s bringing a new level of empowerment to people who never before thought they could change anything. But the key to being able to harness this newfound power, and stand out from the crowd, is to have the courage to speak up and be heard. Thanks to social media, you will find that speaking up is not nearly as hard as you think.
What do you do when you’re faced with the challenge of speaking up? How do you overcome the fear of being ‘different’ and standing out in the crowd? First, let’s look at the basics of digital activism. (You might also find it helpful to look at my philosophy on activism.)
Why Being a Digital Activist is So Powerful
The reason being a digital activist is so powerful is because it changes the nature of activism itself. It’s the reason we’ve seen such a huge shift in activism in recent years. We’ve seen it in the success of movements like #BlackLivesMatter and the #MeToo movement. These came about because people who were previously unknown to each other decided to use social media to connect and organize around an issue.
Practice Safe Pandemic Activism
The fact is that we don’t need to be physically present in order to make change. We can be a part of something even when we are not gathering. That’s why digital activism is so powerful. We can engage with people online who are in a different region or in a different country. It can mean that we can help to empower people who are fighting injustices without being physically present in the same place. It means that people can become a part of a movement that is working for social change and that’s exactly what is needed.
Understanding Digital Activist Relationships
I’ve found that there are three types of interpersonal relationships that work in digital activism. The first is what I call the “activist-activist” relationship. This is where someone is already a part of a movement and wants to support the movement from the inside. The second is what I call the “activist-supporter” relationship. These are people who have not been involved with the movement before and want to learn more. The third is the “activist-tourist” relationship. This is where someone is just looking at the movement and wants to find out more about it but not necessarily take action.
The “activist-activist” relationship works when an activist is already part of a movement and wants to support that movement from the inside. This means that the person agrees with the goals and values of the movement and wants to participate in a meaningful way. In the digital world, they are probably the people on the Zoom call looking to provide an update or get an update.
The “activist-supporter” relationship works when someone joins a movement that they didn’t know much about before, but they are willing to learn more about the movement’s values, ideas and beliefs. In the online world, they are typically recognized because they are retweeting, reposting, and reblogging the words of the leaders.
The “activist-tourist” relationship works when someone joins a movement and cares about its values, ideas or beliefs, but they really just want to learn more about current events. You can recognize them because they’ll occasionally participate in an online discussion or debate, but probably won’t lead one. They are sympathetic to a cause and are interested enough to stay informed.
How to Make a Fearless Activist Digital Community
Part of overcoming your fears as an activist involves taking a stand for something you believe in. An easy way to do this that doesn’t place you at a lot of uncomfortable personal exposure is to create a digital community.
There are a lot of ways to build a community online, but the key is to make sure that your primary goal is about more than only posting other people’s content on your social media: you need to take a stand.
True activism is about creating a relationship that goes beyond a simple post or tweet. That means that you want to actively find like-minded people with similar goals and values and invite them to create a common virtual space. Most often this looks like a creating Facebook group or using consistent hashtags in your Instagram Reels and TikToks and letting the algorithm do the work for you, though this is by no means the only way to create online communities.
Connect to others your own way
It is important to know how to connect to others in your own unique way. This is what true activism is about. It’s not about just writing a bunch of posts that you push without engagement. Activism will never include a “post and ghost” approach to social media. The best activism is when you get to know others, talk to them, share your thoughts with them, and learn from them.
True activism isn’t about being passive or just talking. True activism is about interacting and doing. You can use social media to reach out to others, but you can also do it in other ways, such as using chats and engagement to refine your understanding of an issue.
True digital activism is about having an impact. It’s not about having a big following; it’s about connecting to others, helping them, and helping them grow, and then letting your message spread itself.
How to Leverage Social Media for Your Goals
As social media usage continues to rise, more and more organizations are realizing that social media is a tool they can use to engage with their current and potential supporters, as well as to convert supporters into activists. As social media usage increases, so too does the need for social justice organizations to leverage the power of social media to further their social justice goals. Organizations like the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Amnesty International, and the Workers’ Action Centre are all using social media to spread the word about their initiatives, their struggles, and their efforts. Twenty years ago, these same organizations might have had a website, but you had to know they existed to find them. Today, digital connections propel messaging faster than ever.
Stand Up and Speak Out from Behind the Safety of Your Keyboard
So how does this relate to you becoming fearless? Because the more comfortable you become with your message and how to deliver it concisely, the less fearful you will naturally become in owning your power as an activist. Social media and digital engagement allows you to practice your pitch and hone your understanding in a reasonably low-risk environment.
If you are relatively new to activism, here are some quick “getting started tips” to help you boost your confidence and to raise attention about the issues that impact you.
1. Start to tell stories and use your voice in social media.
2. Volunteer with an organization that already shares your vision and work toward achieving its social media goals.
3. Start a grassroots initiative to affect change by creating a digital community or a new hashtag.
4. Be brave and speak out against injustice when you see posts and tweets that are against your values.
5. Learn to be uncomfortable and stand for what you believe in! There is something solidifying about your beliefs when you put them in your social media bio.
In conclusion, the biggest obstacle to making an impact is your own self-doubt. It can stop you dead in your tracks and stop you from taking any action at all. So, what do you do when self-doubt creeps in? You make a decision to refuse to live in the box that others built for you.
To overcome self-doubt and fear, you’ve got to overcome one of your own fears, and that means speaking up even when it’s uncomfortable. We live in a world where people are afraid of how they will be perceived. You get to make a choice: to boldly stand out, to bravely stand up for ourselves and others, and to confidently speak our minds without being afraid of the judgment of others… or to be comfortable in a role as a tourist. The choice is yours.
This post is also available in an audio format. (A new page will open.)