In honor of the March On Washington’s 50th anniversary, thousands congregated on the National Mall between Saturday and Wednesday in an effort to reignite Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of equality — a mission that many believe has yet to be fully achieved. To raise awareness, hundreds of advocacy groups assembled with a similar mentality as those who participated in the Civil Rights marches years ago: If more people show up to a protest, the more likely their large crowd will garner national attention for their message. But unlike the groups that showed up in person, one civil-rights organization made social media its vocal platform.
Million Hoodies, a nonprofit organization led by millennials, made it its mission to engage young people all around the country in an event they called the Virtual March on Washington this past Saturday. While the pro-online activism group used Facebook, Twitter, Statigram, and Livestream to broadcast up-to-date coverage of the event, it asked their young followers to show their support by sharing pictures of themselves wearing hoodies through various platforms, using the hashtag #HoodiesUp.
In light of the controversy surrounding Trayvon Martin’s death, founder Daniel Maree sought an opportunity to create an alliance of citizens and leaders who share the same passion to end racial injustice. Using a hoodie as its trademark, the organization alludes to the fact that any minority youths could have potentially faced Martin’s same fate. In the year since its conception, Million Hoodies has motivated 50,000 U.S. citizens to sign a Change.org petition demanding justice for Trayvon. To amplify its message, the nonprofit utilized Thunderclap to send out messages on social media at 7:16:56 on Sunday, the time of Martin’s death.
“We’re at an unfortunate point in American history, back at the table, back in the same discussion, because of a racial profiling case,” said Maree in an interview with Buzzfeed. “But what gives me hope is 50 years ago we didn’t have social media. So to me, the virtual march on Washington is the modern ancestor, the natural next step.”
Yet social media activism is continually criticized for being an excuse to avoid partaking in high-risk, real-life activism. The latest critique was generated by Crisis Relief Singapore. In its recent ad campaign, called “Liking Isn’t Helping,” the nonprofit showed child war, flood, and earthquake victims surrounded by multiple hands with thumbs up. Simply liking a page on Facebook or following a cause on Twitter will not have the same impact as being an active volunteer. The problem many people see with online activism is through the way “likers” react to their action. They get the fulfillment of doing something right without giving a second thought that their non-proactive action can actually impede progress.
In an article for the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell admits that there is a power in weak ties or relationships we have with the 1,000 or more friends we have on Facebook. Social media is a communicative outlet to share ideas, gain new insights, or pick up information that is linked to the interests of the people we follow. The problem is that real sacrifice cannot be made through an online platform. Rather, according to Gladwell, “not asking too much of people” is the goal of online activism today.
What social media does is make an organization and its mission more accessible to a wide audience. According to The Millennial Impact report, 83% of millennials surveyed donated money to an organization in 2012. Fifty-two percent responded they would be interested in giving donations monthly to a cause they are passionate about. Not surprisingly, 70% of young people aged 20-35 made their contributions online. Sharing statuses on Facebook or retweeting links to donation pages increases the chance of someone stumbling upon the information and hopefully, giving.
The power found in Million Hoodies is that it not only encourages people to share their opinions about racial injustice, but it also gives followers the option to volunteer. When the internet didn’t exist, people would engage themselves in a cause only after hearing about it through word of mouth. Such a technique would be more effective in organizing a concrete plan, but it would decrease the number of physical supporters that could potentially be involved in a project, since fewer people would know about the demonstration in the first place. What social media can do is mobilize collaborations between people with similar viewpoints or interests. If they are in the same community they can raise awareness, establish chapters, or host gatherings to act upon the issue. If they are connected only through social media, the distance between participants shortens and they can plan events in several cities at the same time. Social media activism is a progressive format that has and will continue to bring people together to do good.