Hey Trish. I’ve been hearing a lot about online activism. What is it, how can I do it, and what should I not do? Thank u!
Happy May, Ask Trish readers! We’re starting off the month with a fantastic question – thank you so much to the author of this note for sharing this question. It’s great both because it touches on a very relevant topic in today’s world, and because it showcases the inspiring initiative of our community. Kudos to you for being interested in Internet activism, and wanting to use the digital world as a force for good/social change! As you might know, Internet activism is something I know quite well (it’s defined my career!) – and something I’m very passionate about – so I’m excited to help you along your journey.
Let me answer each of your questions in turn, starting with what Internet activism is – and, as this week’s TikTok touches on, what it is not. “Internet activism” refers to efforts that leverage the Internet to facilitate some sort of social change and/or movement-building. If that definition sounds vague, that’s because Internet activism is extremely diverse – Internet activists include everyone from social media creators using their platforms to rally folks from around the world behind causes to technologists like me – in my case, I built an app that stops cyberbullying before it happens. In other words, Internet activism is highly creative and individual; activists leverage their interests and skills – from art to technology to science to pop culture – in unique and innovative ways to make an impact online.
What isn’t Internet activism? Internet activism does not require coding or programming experience. While coding is certainly cool (and I highly recommend you check it out!), many Internet activists have no technology background, and use the Internet as a medium for expression. Internet activism also does not require millions of followers (or millions of dollars). Just one beautifully designed graphic can go viral on Instagram. Or, as the #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements have shown us, just a few resonant messages can create an offline and offline movement.
So, how can you get into Internet activism? First, think about what skills and interests you’re passionate about – and how they might connect to Internet activism. Maybe you’re an artist, like @ohhappydani, and realize that you can design graphics that spotlight important injustices/spread important messages. (You can learn more about Dani and her amazing work here.) Or maybe you’re a budding climate scientist, and you wonder if you can use social media – or other platforms – to visualize how climate change is affecting our world. The possibilities are endless! As you consider what might be right for you, I encourage you to be open and true to yourself. You have something unique to bring to our digital world.
Once you have a vision, break it down into small steps. My vision was to build an app to rethink cyberbullying; it combined my background as a technologist with my passion for ending online hate. To bring that vision to life, though, I had to take it a step at a time – first, I had to validate the concept via research; then, I had to build and test the technology. Maybe you want to start an online community to break the stigma around mental health challenges. Step 1 might be figuring out where’s best to do that – Instagram? Your own website? Another forum/space? Breaking the vision down into smaller steps will give you a clear path to change and make it easier for you to accomplish your ultimate goal.
From there, be consistent and authentic – and remember, impact isn’t just about the “how many.” While it’s possible, it’s not likely that your post or creation will go viral overnight (Ask Trish, for instance, certainly didn’t!) – but keep at it. Keep posting, updating, and spreading the word! With time, your community will grow, just as ours has. And especially if you’re using social media as a means to ignite change, remember to stay authentic. Authenticity can go a long way on social media (and if you don’t believe me, just listen to this interview with Kudzi Chikumbu, Director of Community at TikTok). Finally, don’t forget that impact is not just about your number of followers – it’s about the depth of change you’re helping facilitate. Even if you improve just one life, you’ve made tremendous progress.
You also asked what not to do when it comes to Internet activism. Here, I have one word of caution: the Internet being as messy a place as it is, sometimes, Internet activism – particularly on hot button topics – can become messy too, and at times, go beyond things like raising awareness and accountability to cyberbullying and stalking. So as you make change, hold yourself accountable: are you creating more good than bad? What might be the negative impacts of your work? And how can you mitigate those “unintended consequences”? With a little intentionality and forethought, you can avoid any digital disasters.
I hope this post – and my advice – was enlightening and helpful! Again, congrats to you on being interested in online activism/wanting to use the Internet to make an impact. I’m so impressed with your initiative and excited to see all that I know you will do. And if you still have a question – about Internet activism, or anything else – please go ahead and send in a note here. I might just explore your question in my next TikTok/blog post! Whatever you’re wondering about is 100% valid, so don’t hesitate to share. Whether it’s a little funny or a little scary, the Ask Trish community and I have your back.
Last but not least, I want to briefly encourage y’all to like, comment on, and share the Ask Trish videos you watch and love! Your support can help spread the word and grow our community. 💙 Let’s hype up our vision of #InternetPositivity!
See you all next Tuesday!