|My colleague Jennifer Skuza's new profile photo.|
Following the Supreme Court decision on June 26 that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right, more than a million Facebook users changed their profile images in celebration.
We don’t know how many viewed that action as risky. Likely fewer than those who changed their profiles in March 2013 to the red "equals" sign, the logo of the Human Rights Campaign, which was an early demonstration of widespread support for same-sex marriage.
Using social media as a forum for one’s civic activism has been denigrated as clickactivism and slacker-activism -- an easy, no-cost, low-effort, almost meaningless action. One click and you’re done. I agree it is easier – especially for those with busy lives, or who live in communities that do not have forums for organized civic action. But it;s not necessarily without risk or meaning. For many, it may be the first time they take a public stand on a controversial issue, or the first time that they “tell” parents, neighbors, colleagues and acquaintances their opinion.
I’ve often told youth that they shouldn’t post anything online that they don’t want their parent, religious leader, future/current employer, college admissions officer, best friend or worst enemy to see. This encouraged (I hoped) a rather conservative approach to online postings. I’d still give that advice for the party pics and juvenile humor. But what about issues of human rights and social justice? How should we advise youth when their opinions and values conflict with those who have power over or relationships with them?
I am reading Giving 2.0 by Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen. I am struck by her definition of philanthropy. In addition to the giving of money, expertise and time, she stresses that we have other resources we can give: our influence, our networks, and our voices. And these resources are available now; we don’t need to wait until we graduate or make a lot of money or retire. While I have often contacted people for a cause, or given permission for a cause to use my name, I’ve never before thought of using my networks and influence as a form of philanthropy, as an act to promote human welfare.
Using our influence and networks is a powerful gift. Research indicates that many of us need proof that others support a social issue before we will speak up for it online. This suggests that the speaking out, including changing your profile to indicate support, is risky. Research also indicates that those who speak up early provide a safe context for others to act, and to add their voices and influence. It only takes a few of those early voices to make the difference. Research also indicates that people who engage in online activism see themselves as making a substantial contribution, and that they intend to follow up the click with participation in offline civic activism.
Each of us has influence, networks and a voice. It only takes a few seconds to click like, or to change a profile. In a world where social media is a vital medium to maintain relationships with our families, our friends and our world, using our voices and influence in support of human rights and social justice can make a big difference, encouraging others to speak out or question their beliefs. But there are risks, especially when those with power over us disagree. It takes a strong person to stand up for what they believe. Youth will need to weigh concerns for their safety against speaking their values.
The Internet is a disruptive innovation; it is changing how we advocate and influence. Instead of demeaning the clicks and tweets of social media, consider how you can use them to use your influence and networks, in support of human rights and social justice.
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