Autism Awareness Club and FEAT Heads Discuss Social Media

The Horizon interviewed senior Sophia Lager, co-head of the Autism Awareness Club, and junior Elson Bankoff, co-head of the Friends Environmental Action Team (FEAT), about the significance of social media as a form of activism. The questions and their answers, edited for clarity and brevity, can be found below.

How have you seen social justice spread awareness and make a difference online (can you mention any particular movements)?Are there particular platforms that seem to generate a greater change than others? 

Lager: Online social justice efforts definitely work to spread awareness of issues, such as the #MeToo movement or a lot of environmental movements. Reposting Instagram stories or sharing GoFundMe links are common examples.

Bankoff: Social media can be utilized beneficially to help people directly by mutual aid and creating communities on different platforms. For example, social media which is commonly associated with posting also includes direct messaging and online chat rooms (available on Instagram and Twitter), which is a powerful tool to help people come together when it might otherwise be geographically challenging. 

An example of a movement that has utilized social media is Black Lives Matter, in support of racial justice. However, for other movements such as the environmental movement, I think it is very difficult to use social media as support because much of it is out of our control. It is challenging to have effective change because social media creates an echo chamber of people shouting their opinions into the void of the internet, but not taking action. To utilize social media effectively you have to take this enthusiasm and put it into real life, which makes social media a great tool to organize protests, or gain magazine followers, but not to just spread opinions.

How are Sidwell clubs taking advantage of social media (if it all) to advocate for change? 

Lager: Most clubs have unofficial Instagram [and] Facebook accounts to help generate enthusiasm and awareness about their activities. 

Bankoff: It is difficult to have social media as a club at Sidwell because it cannot be officially affiliated with the school. However, I think the unofficial social media accounts created by school publications are great because they spread information directly to their peers and create an environmentally and inexpensive way to publish articles. 

In your opinion, what are the advantages and pitfalls of social media activism? 

Lager: I think that these are well-intentioned but can often be more performative than impactful. Sometimes people think that they can click “repost” and that’s all they can do from their position. Social media activism is an easy way to get involved with what’s happening in your community, but it can fall short. 

Bankoff: I think there is a lot of burnout than can occur with activism, personally I have noticed this with the environmental movement, and people become exhausted. Social media requires a lot of energy, often yields a less result and it can be very difficult to see the change happening. Social media itself should not be the main focusing change driver and rather be used as a tool. 

Do you view social media activism as less genuine than other forms of activism and what do you consider to be genuine social media activism?

Lager:  I don’t view social media activism as less genuine than other forms of activism as long as it is carried out with the understanding that it’s not an alternative to sending letters, getting out on the streets to protest, etc. It’s an additional resource but it’s not always able to stand independently. 

Bankoff: In the past during the 60s and 70s, during counterculture and civil rights, anti-war movements, citizens were able to achieve massive uprising and cultural shifts without social media. While today it can be used effectively to involve those who otherwise might not have been exposed to it and connects people across the world. I don’t think social media is necessary, but it is beneficial as long as it is allied with the cause, but not the cause itself.