When riots broke out following the non-indictment of Darren Wilson after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, DeRay McKesson followed the first few days of the protest from his home in Minneapolis. At that time, DeRay was a school administrator in Minnesota. Now, he has become a full-time organizer, has appeared on CNN, has written articles for Huffington Post, and has gained a Twitter following of 257K on the way.
While many social activists and community leaders made their way to Ferguson to peacefully protest, thousands more looked to social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook for live updates of the battleground that was #Ferguson. By following a simple hashtag, the universe was connected to Ferguson, Missouri in real-time, no travel needed.
We exist in a tradition of erased histories. Twitter has helped us tell our own story. We are sitting in history and making it. #Ferguson”
-DeRay McKesson; December 19th, 2014.
While we acknowledge that social media is the first step in the ladder of engagement, the advantages of this kind of activism is extensive.
Social Media has become the commander in breaking news. In 2011 when the Arab Spring uprisings took place in Egypt, many of the young protesters took to social media platforms such as Twitter to organize as well as inform those both domestically and internationally of the events that transpired. Events such as this are no anomaly. Protesters all over the world have flocked to social media to spread information, and top news organizations such as CNN, Huffington Post, and the AP have all competed to be the first to break news through this media.
The most common form of spreading activism have been though hashtags. Sites such Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have adopted hashtags as the centerpiece of their sites. These hashtags can direct a reader straight to the point of interest that they’re looking for. These hashtags have the power to trigger change and raise awareness about issues people care about while giving those around the world a chance to weigh in on important conversations.
It is important to note that social media cannot replace the realities of life. New York Times columnist Roger Cohen said it best: “To bear witness means being there — and that’s not free. No search engine gives you the smell of a crime, the tremor in the air, the eyes that smolder, or the cadence of a scream.”
But social media can expose the harsh conditions of refugees. Social media can expose police brutality that occurs almost daily in the United States. Social media can expose gender disparities. Social media can enlighten the masses on these occurrences and help the process to eradicate these issues.
So no, social media can’t guarantee social justice. Refugees are still without homes. Unarmed men and women are still being shot by police. Men are still paid more than women for the same jobs.
But social media can change the invisibility of these issues and ignite social justice advocates worldwide.
When social media meets social justice, that’s when change begins.