Activism in the digital age

In May of 2020,  a harrowing video surfaced in which George Floyd was murdered by police in broad daylight after being accused of trying to use a counterfeit $20 bill. In just 12 hours, the video was viewed by 2.5 million people, including freshman computer science major Esha Dupunguntla. “I was traumatized by what I saw. It really made me aware of the racial injustices faced by Black people in the United States,” Dupunguntla said. 

Dupunguntla believes that the online circulation of Floyd’s death is a prime example of the role social media plays in raising awareness for modern social justice movements. In the wake of Floyd’s death, Dupunguntla said that she felt compelled to become more active on social media both to show her support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and to spread useful information.

“I reposted content that I found informative and concentrated my efforts in sharing resources like Change.org petitions and educational websites,” Dupunguntla said. “I wanted to make sure that this injustice was not something people could ignore. With social media, we have these carefully curated feeds that will always show us exactly what we want to see. It is important to have that comfort disturbed so that we don’t live in ignorance.” 

Dupunguntla says that Instagram is the social media platform she uses most frequently when it comes to promoting social justice because of the stories feature which allows her to post attention-grabbing images for 24-hour increments in hopes that they will attract her followers to different resources. Additionally, she finds it helpful to link resources in her bio to direct traffic to them. 

Dupaguntla suggested that social media activism often goes hand in hand with other forms of advocacy. “It can be a really effective way to mobilize people in a community,” Dupaguntla said. “Following the account @its_on_usfca, for instance, made me aware about events that I otherwise might not have known about, like the Survivor Speakout.”

Graphic by Morgan Lee / GRAPHICS CENTER 

The Survivor Speakout was an event in which students were invited to “stand in solidarity with student survivors and demand the USF administration to adequately address sexual violence on campus,” according to the It’s on USFCA Instagram account. The event was primarily advertised on Instagram, which is run by alumni and students and aims to provide resources as well as a safe space for survivors of sexual assault to share their stories. 

This account is one of many student-run social media profiles that represent student community organizations at USF. Naomi Smeby, a third-year nursing major, is the social media director of the Active Minds club at USF. “Social media has been a great tool so far in helping to achieve our goals of encouraging others to have conversations about mental health while also providing more information regarding the topic,” Smeby said. 

Active Minds is a nonprofit organization that supports mental health awareness and mental health education for young adults, so Smeby felt that it was an especially important organization to raise awareness for during the pandemic. “Social media has been one of the key ways we are able to stay connected with students wherever they are. Our organization is still fairly new and actually began during the transition to virtual learning,” said Smeby. 

This past year, Active Minds used Instagram to coordinate their “Wellness Project” where they were able to pair students together to help facilitate friends and support during the pandemic. 

Likewise, Sayeh Jafari, a fourth-year biology major and social media director of the Young Democratic Socialists of America organization (YSDA) at USF says that Instagram was instrumental in the organization’s Yes on Prop 15 campaign last fall. “Instagram was huge for spreading awareness of misleading marketing funded by the opposing side of the proposition, and for recruiting people to phonebank and textbank statewide.” 

Jafari explained that social media has been an important tool in educating others about the core values of the YDSA and democratic socialism as a whole. “Social media makes leftist literature even more accessible,” Jafari said. “Posting has allowed us to reach our audience with new ways to get involved with our chapter on a regular basis and has been an important tool to promote class analysis in what, for most people, is an echo chamber.” 

With story polls and Instagram’s business analytics feature, those hoping to use social media to raise awareness can see how their audience responds to their posts, allowing them to alter their content accordingly in order to generate more engagement and reach more people regarding the issues they are passionate about.

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