Social Activism

As someone who has never been an active online citizen, I don’t have much experience in online social activism. Even offline, I take the part more as a personally responsible citizen versus a participatory citizen or justice-oriented citizen (Joel Westheimer, 2015). Therefore, I did some more research after our discussion about it a couple of weeks ago. I have used the guiding questions posted on the weekly schedule to help organize my response. Thanks to Curtis for sharing the link to his Wakelet to help me minimize the time I needed to search.

Can online social activism be meaningful and worthwhile?

According to theconversation.com, social activism refers to a broad range of activities which are beneficial to society or particular interest groups. Social activists operate in groups to voice, educate and agitate for change, targeting global crises. As Kalyn identified, the ALS Challenge, #BlackLivesMatter, and #MeToo are all examples of what online social activism could be. I was a participant of the ALS Challenge by dumping a bucket of ice water on my head, but I am ashamed to say that I didn’t participate any further than that by donating money, as per the objective of the challenge.

But why not? Why did I feel that I was doing a good deed by recording a video and putting it online for friends to see? Was I spreading awareness of the cause or just trying to fit in with others who were taking part?

I learned that this false sense of activism is described as an “impression of activism” according to theguardian.com. These types of online activities reinforce collective identity by reducing attention to differences that exist within the group (such as education, social class, and ethnicity). However, a study found that people who joined a cause publicly were, when asked, less willing to stuff envelopes for the cause than those who joined in private. Return rates for charities and campaigns on Facebook can be a tenth of those for traditional routes such as mail solicitation (The Guardian). I guess it’s easy to look the part online when there is no follow up to whether a donation was made or volunteer time was donated to the organization itself.

Additionally, with the intent to organize events with high levels of engagement, focus, and strength, such as the Arab Spring that Nataly introduced me to, it also draws attention to government authorities who may intensify internet filtering, block access to several websites, and decrease the speed of the internet connection to slow down social activism (The Conversation, 2018) . Wael Ghonim’s Ted Talk titled Let’s Design Social Media that Drives Real Change gives an in-depth description of how an act of social activism turned negative.

Back to the question of whether social activism can be meaningful and worthwhile. I feel that it can be meaningful and worthwhile if it’s done properly. “Instead of focusing on the problem and the need for change, activists can share information that explains why and how the current situation has been created and what can be learned for the future. Online activism in such manner can gradually lead to the development of people who are capable of generating new knowledge and wisdom to respond to changing social environments. However, that requires strategic patience and that is often a scarce resource among activists desperate for change” (Shahla Ghobodi, 2018)

Is it possible to have productive conversations about social justice online?

Wael Ghonim was helpful is bringing me the awareness of social justice online through his experience with the Arab Spring. He says that “we talk at instead of with people about social justice issues.” I found this to be very interesting as we often want people to hear what we have to say but are not as willing to hear what others have to say, especially if it goes against our own opinions and beliefs. “We block, unfollow, or mute those that don’t share the same opinion.” Therefore, we only hear what we want to hear. When we only follow and like the opinions that match ours, “we don’t change our opinions, even if new information arises that contradicts what we have stated.” Wael goes on to state that we need to start to engage in conversations rather than broadcast opinions. Social media incentives might help to breed this culture. However, what would social media incentives look like? There is a lot of online moderation that is needed to ensure purposeful and productive conversations are happening.

We need to liberate the internet before we can use it to liberate society.

Wael Ghonim

What is our responsibility as educators to model active citizenship online?

Katia Hildebrant has some interesting articles online that help outline how we as educators can model active citizenship online. First, “we have a responsibility to risk our privilege to give voice to social inequities and injustices. If we remain silent online about important social issues and only tweet about sharing resources and giving someone positive feedback on their post, we are telling others that the other issues that we don’t speak about aren’t important (Hildebrandt, 2015). “Silence speaks as loudly as words.”

I agree with this but also struggle with how to go about doing this. As mentioned before, I categorize myself as a personally responsible citizen and feel reluctant to be a participatory or even a justice-oriented citizen. This means being vulnerable and taking risks by sharing my voice on important social justice issues when I feel I am not educated on them enough to provide valuable input. I have just stepped foot into the online world as an educator and will eventually use my network to promote equity in meaningful ways. However, I want to ensure that I am ready to do this in a respectful and purposeful way so that I don’t just become an impression of activism once again. Perhaps I can learn this with my students and my own children as I help them to create this type of online digital identity as well. I am sure that I could follow respected advocates online via Twitter to follow their example. However, this scares me a bit as I am usually one to be concerned about what others think of me. I often go back to the example that Brad shared with regards to taking a group of students to the garbage dump to express the importance of recycling and how he received flack from parents. Negative comments are bound to happen, and this is another piece of putting myself out there that I need to learn how to navigate.

It is obvious that digital citizenship is an area that we need to address as educators but the direction that is it going now is one of scare tactics. Intentional or not, we need to shift the conversation of “how to” instead of “how not to”. Of course, cyber safety is important, but within this dialogue, we need to focus on online responsibility. Hildebrandt (2017) shares in her article titled What Kind of (Digital) Citizen? that instead of scaring kids offline or telling them what not to do, we should support them in doing good, productive, and meaningful things online.

Digital Citizenship Education in Saskatchewan Schools

In another article titled The Definition of Digital Citizenship by Terry Heick, he explains that we need to teach students that digital citizenship is to see things from another perspective, add helpful information/context to a discussion, as well as treat people, places, and ‘spaces’ with respect. Within his 63 Things every student should know in a digital world article (2018), the following points stood out to me with regards to digital citizenship and how we can help students:

  • Know how to remix, mash, reimagine, tweak, hack, and repurpose media in credible, compelling, and legal ways.
  • Know how to identify what information is private and what is “social”—and how to make changes accordingly.
  • Know what expertise they can offer the digital world.
  • Know how to take only what you need, even when the (digital) resources seem infinite.

Through this research of social activism and digital citizenship, I have started to realize the important piece that I play in helping our students create a digital identity through the means of appropriate citizenship (on and offline). However, I have to take the journey myself. Do I take the journey with them or journey myself before helping others?

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