When people hear the word “activism”, what do they think of? For Africans, it may summon images of protests for independence and freedom. Many Japanese may associate the word with teaching Japanese youth that they have an important role in society. And for many U.S. citizens, evocative images of peace protests and equality movements from the 1950s to the 1970s arise.
While activism has taken many forms over the centuries, the information age has moved activism into a new phase. Spreading awareness of a particular cause once meant knocking on doors, writing letters, and calling people. Now people create websites, send e-mails, post messages to online forums, and use social networking tools to inform the masses.
19% of Americans went online at least once a week to engage in e-activism related to a political campaign in 2008.
This Internet activism (often referred to as e-activism) has fundamentally changed the way that we raise awareness and rally people to a cause. Now anyone with access to the Internet can participate in a growing number of ways, regardless of age and skill level. With this increased accessibility, campaigns of all kinds have seen significant increases in participation.
A powerful example of using simple technology to spread awareness of political unrest occurred after the Iranian presidential election in June, 2009, when protestors took to the streets after accusations of fraud. Many turned to Twitter to relay information to the rest of the world.
E-activism takes many different forms and there are many small things you can do as an activist with the Internet as your tool. For instance, are you witnessing pollution in your community? You can shoot a video with your smartphone, upload it to YouTube, and then share the footage across a variety of social media platforms. Here are some other simple things you can do to promote your cause online.
Blogging is an easy and productive way to voice your opinion and share information. Many activists use blogs as a tool in their arsenal. There are numerous sites on the Web that allow you to create a free blog. Some of the more popular include WordPress.com, Blogger.com, LiveJournal.com, and Medium. Most blogs include a technology called RSS that lets readers subscribe and receive new content when it's published.
Of course, posting blog posts doesn't guarantee readers. Social media tools like Facebook and Twitter can be useful in spreading the word about your blogging activities. Additionally, those same tools can easily be used as e-activist tools. Facebook pages are easy to join and make, and they typically draw in many people. An example of an activist Facebook page is Greenpeace International, garnering over 2.5 million fans worldwide.
Twitter can also be used to spread information quickly using hashtags. A Twitter hash tag like #savetheocean may quickly unite thousands of people to sign a petition, donate funds, or attend a rally. This sort of “instant” feedback is valuable to those that organize activist events. Its real time nature also allows people to spread news of momentous political and social events, uniting people across Twitter's simple platform.
Agents of Change
Visit MobileActive.org, a site dedicated to expanding knowledge and reducing learning curves for using mobile technologies to bring about social change.
There are a number of websites online dedicated to helping support a wide range of causes. Freecycle is a non-profit organization that helps people keep their unwanted possessions out of dumps and landfill and in the hands of those who may need it. Change.org is a website where anyone can create a digital petition and collect signatures online. Popular Change.org campaigns have achieved powerful results. A site like Care2, dedicated to activists, is another useful destination. Care2 promises to put “powerful tools” in your hand, making it easy to support the causes that mean the most to you. There are numerous causes like safe food and women's rights that can be supported using the site's many tools.
Wireless = Mobility
As mobile technologies continue to advance, integrating Internet applications into portable devices, e-activism can now be done on-the-go. This technology allows you to take to the streets while remaining connected to a steady flow of information. It also lets you share pertinent information with on the spot. If you're explaining deforestation in South America to someone, you can easily provide statistics by using your mobile device. Sending SMS messages to mobilize people for a political rally is another way to harness technology for a cause.
While e-activism has its critics, it isn't going to disappear. New causes and ways to spread awareness about them seem to appear on a daily basis.