Before we start talking about online activism, it’s best to remind the definition of activism. It is the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change. Once purely physical, it comes today in a new form : online activism.
A NEW FORM OF ACTIVISM
In a few minutes and hashtags, you can get informed on everything that’s happening in the world. Even though it is criticized for being too “lazy” or “convenient”, online activism has had a real impact on our society and has become a part of the 21st century’s activism. From TikTok and its political popularization videos to protests organizations on Instagram, social media became the ideal platform for activism. According to the journalist Malcom Gladwell : « The world », they say « is in the midst of a revolution. Social media reinvent social activism. With tools such as Facebook and Twitter, the traditional relationship between the politician and people is shaken to its core. Social media helps collaborations along between unprivileged people, they can make their voices heard. »
Even though online activism throwbacks to a few years, we can admit that its peak was in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic. After all, beside watching Netflix and scrolling on Twitter, there wasn’t much to do. And that’s how the world followed the revival of the Black Lives Matter movement in May 2020. According to a survey lead on Yubo, 78% of the American GenZ used social media to bring their support to the Black Lives Matter protests after the murder of George Floyd. More and more people started to show their activism on social media, which helped put the spotlight on some deep issues.
THE TOXICITY BEHIND ONLINE ACTIVISM
Because we know the toxicity behind social media, we knew it was a matter of time before something bad happened. And it was called cancel culture. Even though the original idea behind it was good, it turned into a nightmare and went a lot more faster than it should have.
But where does cancel culture come from ? We can recourt its origins to 2017 when the Harvey Weinstein scandal exploded. After discovering every terrible thing he had done in numerous articles, the public’s response was the Me Too movement that came with cancel culture. The goal was to cancel celebrities in the same row that Weinstein. But what exactly is cancel culture ? Cancel culture refers to the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming. Another term is call-out culture.
Medias and social media were the perfect tool to practice this famous cancel culture. A lot of people made it to the cancelled list. However, with the speed of social media, cancel culture became a problem when it started to target anyone, for anything. We all remember when people on Twitter wanted to cancel Doja Cat for things that turned out to be false. The singer was bullied for a week before people realized it was fake and then her detractors continued to listen to her music as if nothing happened.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW ?
Personally, I am not against cancel culture, as long as it looses its toxicity. It’s important to remind everyone who must be targeted : problematic people that have said and done terrible things. Just like Harvey Weinstein at the beginning of the Me Too movement.
Whether you’re for or against it, you have to admit that it belongs to activism today and we won’t be able to get rid of it before a long time. However activism can’t be reduced to cancel culture. It is a way of educating young people on important matters, to help unprivileged people, whether by signing a petition or donating money. It’s also an efficient way to open a dialogue. Online activism does more good than harm.
Written by Elena Gaudé.