By Anne Collier
Social change agents used to go to “the press” (remember that?) to expose social ills and make things better. Now they go to social media. Stop and think about what a huge difference that is, in terms of the actors, the actions, the issues, and the medium. The social activists can now be anyone. They don’t have to persuade an editor that something’s important. No matter how small the issue, if the activist feels it’s important and has the courage to go public with it, nothing’s too small to see the light of day. The medium presents no barriers. An agent or activist doesn’t have to have an issue that could affect millions – just an issue. Whether it catches notice and effects change seems to be based on the appeal of the issue and the activist and how much other users care about both.
Take the Facebook page Diario de Classe (“class journal”), for example. Thirteen-year-old student Isadora Faber in Florianopolis, Brazil, created it in July, and of this writing, the page has 333,943 likes and 60,453 talking about it. “The page quickly became famous, not only because it showed the poor state of Isadora’s school [crumbling infrastructure, broken equipment, shortage of teachers], but because it was a symbol of the poor state of Brazilian public schools in general,” DML Central reported. “She received massive media attention, which prompted ’emergency reforms’ in her school by the state of Santa Catarina. She then started to post about the reforms and the new items the school received, but she continued to document other (yet unresolved) problems.” Isadora has gotten plenty of flak, including recent police questioning about “a complaint from a teacher who claimed she was being maligned by Isadora’s post” (DML Central has a link to the news story in Portuguese). Her family has posted its support for her on her page.
Isadora’s page was reportedly inspired by 9-year-old Scottish student Martha Payne’s blog “Never Seconds” about the low quality of her school’s lunches and has in turn inspired at least five other Brazilian students’ pages about problems at their schools. This is exponential awareness-raising, because – as DML Central points out – “isolated cases” suddenly add up to a broad systemic problem and growing pressure to get it fixed.
* For the bigger picture, see this at DML Central about MAPP (the Media Activism Participatory Politics project), studying how youth use digital media (and how digital media encourage youth) to organize for social change. MAPP will eventually present four case studies, the first of which is about the DREAM ACTivist movement: “While working to pass the DREAM Act [Development, Relief, Education for Alien Minors ], young activists have used digital media to rally many across the country around the fight for immigration rights and education.”
* See also this about Brazilian youth activism: “The Brazilian Dream”