By Lucy Ruscitto | Staff Writer
With recent social issues becoming more prevalent in the media and personal connections driving their posts, social media users everywhere have invoked their power of “social media activism,” including Baylor students.
In 2018, “around half of Americans engaged in some form of political or social-minded activity on social media in the past year,” according to Pew Research Center.
Additionally according to Pew Research Center, “on May 28, nearly 8.8 million tweets contained the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag,” which was the highest ever reported number of uses for this hashtag since Pew Research Center first tracked its use.
College Station sophomore Alondra Ovalle said that she believes the outside cultural and social influences on the younger generation specifically has affected the recent rise of speaking out on social media.
“We’re going through a weird era that our generation hasn’t gone through, with some different movements happening and everything … I see it as just a modern problem calls for a modern solution,” Ovalle said. “And I feel like, in all honesty, our generation really only knows to go to the internet.”
New Braunfels junior Tate Korpi said that he thinks both the increase in widespread access to technology around the globe as well as deepened polarization between the two major political ideologies has contributed to the uptick he has seen in social media activism.
“You’re also seeing increasing polarization among people especially in the ages that use social media and I think a lot of people use that as their main voice to voice their opinions,” Korpi said.
Charleston, S.C., sophomore Andrew Robertson said he too believes that the escalation in polarization has been a main factor in the surge of political or human rights issue dedicated posts in the last year. He also saw an increase in the education of social media users regarding the topics they post about.
“People have learned to use our platforms for different mediums … for different causes,” Robertson said. “As we get older, we also get more passionate about the things we care about, so that contributes as well.”
Ovalle said she also feels that if one feels called to speak out on a certain event or topic, they have more than every right to do so.
“I’m pretty comfortable with sharing what I believe in. I feel like if you’re passionate about some type of movement, you should be able to share information about that,” Ovalle said.
Korpi said that he is one of these social media activists, as he often posts content on his Instagram story that he thinks will provoke others’ strongly-held beliefs that he thinks are “mainstream” or “popular.”
“A lot of the activism that I see is very, very one sided, very, very closed-minded. So my whole idea is I want to put content out there to challenge people’s thoughts and opinions,” Korpi said.
While Korpi said he does feel comfortable about putting his opinions and beliefs out there for all of his followers to see, he has lost some along the way because of the contents of his posts.
“I’ve had a bunch of close friends actually unfollow me because they just don’t want anything that I post because it goes against their personal beliefs and they’d rather just not see it. So that’s why I think it’s even more important that I use my voice. I mean I personally don’t care if I lose followers,” Korpi said. “And so it is a very hostile environment, if your opinions are against the mainstream.”
Robertson said that unlike Korpi and Ovalle, he is no longer as active when it comes to posting his viewpoints on social media.
Robertson said he recounted the first time in which he did share his opinions on something politically controversial. He said it was on the matter of pro-life vs. pro-choice, and in turn, received many negative comments and even an unfollow from someone who he said he thought was his best friend.
“When you receive that hate, it definitely discourages you from doing it again,” Robertson said.
Ovalle said she has also experienced some backlash after putting forth one of her positions about a subject that was highly questioned at the time. She said that at the start of the mask movement in response to the pandemic, she would post “info sheets” on Instagram, as well as what type of masks scientifically worked, and which were not effective. After posting these, a follower of hers reached out with his own comments.
“I recall one time where it’s some guy was like, ‘This is all fake,’” Ovalle said. “I was like, ‘That’s fine, but it’s not going to stop me from sharing what I believe in.’ Especially if it’s something you’re passionate about and really feel like other people need to hear.”
Robertson additionally said that he believes that social media activism can be effective, but only when the users platform is extensive enough. Otherwise, Robertson the average user may just be eliciting more opposing behaviors.
“I wouldn’t say I’m uncomfortable with it [posting], but I would say that I don’t think it contributes anything to either discourse or relevancy,” Robertson said. “People, especially now, are very closed-minded so that stuff is either going to just reaffirm their already established beliefs or just put them on edge about those beliefs if they disagree with them.”
On the other hand, Korpi said that he is not so sure if the average user’s posts make a difference, but instead prioritizes meaningful conversation that is sparked by what may be one person’s controversial beliefs.
Despite his enthusiasm for being socially active on social media, Korpi said that one of the toughest parts about being so active on social media about the beliefs he morally prioritizes is that sometimes the sources’ use of “divisive rhetoric” and “appeals to people’s emotions” can get in the way of the posts’ validity.
Ovalle also said she has criteria for what she shares on her social media accounts, and that there has to be some type of evidence behind it.
“I just think you have to be very cognizant of what you’re reading, and being super analytical the information, like if it doesn’t sound like there’s any like either scientific or like moral backup to it,” Ovalle said.
Korpi said that being a spokesperson for your cause via social media doesn’t mean others have to agree with one’s beliefs on every front.
“The most effective means of social media activism is by using compassion and facts … If I see a post that they make that is grounded in facts, and it has a convincing and compelling argument, I’ll go ahead and share that story,” Korpi said. “My goal is just to get people to be intrigued and captivated by it and just look through it and recognize ‘Hey, there’s two sides of every coin.’ And as long as the post is not attacking anyone for their ideology, I think that it’s a good way to encourage those internal conversations.”
Like Korpi, Ovalle said she understands that one can still speak up for what they believe in, but doesn’t necessarily have to change the opposing viewer’s stance when you do so.
“You can’t force anybody to believe or agree with what you’re advocating for. So you’re practicing these things yourself if you’re really advocating for them,” Ovalle said. “And then all you can really do is put that information out for someone. And it’s up to them whether or not they want to do [anything].”