For decades, like-minded people have joined together to fight for things they believe in. The surviving, grainy footage of the Civil Rights Movement is a great example of that.
More recently, the "Internet Slowdown" protest, the protest against Proposition 8 and the Stop Online Piracy Act protests took to social media to exact the changes they sought to make.
Because today's activists can tap into the power of social media to gain reach and mobilize supporters, they stand a better chance of raising awareness about their causes and illiciting real change in the world.
The "Internet Slowdown" Protest
The Internet can be extremely helpful as an activism tool, and sometimes even presents reasons for people to get riled up. The "Internet Slowdown" protest is a great example. Organized around September 10, 2014, this global effort gained support from huge brand names like Etsy, WordPress and Netflix, all because of a belief that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should not have the right to manipulate the way online data is sent or received.
Websites that got on board with the protest pledged to add a "loading" icon to their homepages to spread the word about what net neutrality means and how it could affect the way we get information if laws are passed to loosen the operating regulations of ISPs.
Red Equals Signs Dominated Facebook
Last March when the United States Supreme Court was considering Proposition 8, which banned same sex marriages in California, millions of people changed their profile pictures to show a red equals sign. That switch indicated support for marriage equality. The Supreme Court ultimately did strike down Proposition 8.
In this case, the act of changing a profile picture to express views on a hot topic might have been more powerful for influencing people in a respective social media network. If a person is unsure about their stance on gay marriage, seeing all those equals signs across Facebook might encourage him or her to learn more about the issue and why others feel so strongly about it.
Protests Against Opposition to Online Piracy
In 2012, Internet users banded together to oppose the Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act, and the collective action really did influence lawmakers in this case.
More than 162 million people saw a message about the protest on Wikipedia alone, and 18 senators decided not to lend their support to the Acts. Additionally, millions of people signed an online petition to show their support for a "free and open web." Because of that progress, the online piracy legislation protests were hailed as successful.
What Determines Whether a Protest Has Worked?
In order to realistically answer the question of whether a protest was worthwhile, it's necessary to have a clear set of goals in mind before the protest is even fully organized. Also, it's important to keep a realistic perspective.
Changing a profile picture or making a status update about your thoughts on a current event may not directly impact how a senator votes or whether a new piece of legislation gets passed, but it allows you to participate sharing your views.
Especially if you are seeking to support a change in your local community, social media can be a huge tool. For example, if you try to rally support for local businesses and discourage support of global corporations, using Facebook or Twitter to share information about local companies could do a lot to raise awareness within your geographic area.
Raise Your Voice
Staying silent about an issue that matters to you can be discouraging and even dangerous. Thanks to the momentum that social media can provide, it's possible to share your views with an audience of thousands or more, using nothing more than your freedom of thought and an Internet connection.
Image by Purple Sherbet Photography