This past weekend, Made in America Festival lit up my feeds with news of the benefitting United Ways in Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey and Lancaster, as well as in Los Angeles. In LA, tons of online activism was spread on the #United4LA hashtag, United Way of Greater Los Angeles’ movement to end the cycle of poverty in LA through housing, education and employing veterans. This movement certainly sparked a conversation at what otherwise would have been simply a fun weekend music event. Unlike this campaign, other efforts from organizations seem to stay on screen and out of daily life. So, as passionate, connected individuals, how can we use social media to advocate for the issues we care about and affect lasting change?
1. Think before you post
Online conversation is a great way to humanize issues, spread awareness, better understand differing points of view and increase pressure on people with immediate power to change things. But sometimes it can be ineffective or cause more harm than good by patronizing or sensationalizing issues. Before you get too hashtag happy, be mindful in your activism by asking yourself questions before you post:
- Have you researched and verified that what you're posting is factually true?
- What are your motivations?
- What positive and negative effects might your post have?
- Do you have a personal connection to the topic?
- How can you effectively post with "sensitivity and a clear understanding of [social media's] limited reach and impact"?
2. Get inspired by others
We can do radical things through social media. Like this group of United Way-funded students who started The Honest Beauty Project, using Facebook to redefine standards of beauty that are often skewed through media. Or these young world-changers, including students in the Philippines using social media to comment on their schools and in doing so, empower communities and hold the government accountable.
3. Choose the right medium
To draw attention to various animals' potential for extinction, the World Wildlife Fund used Snapchat to send fleeting #LastSelfie images of endangered species. Think of ways different media can send different messages. Choose one(s) that best reach your audience and most effectively tell your story.
4. Don't stop there! Do something IRL (in real life)
Make it real. Use social media as a launching pad for conversations with friends, family and professors. Organize with individuals online to raise funds for causes, advocate for issues or volunteer in your community.
5. Get some real-world training and experience
Sign up now for our Student United Way Leadership Retreat to find creative ways to use social media; develop your thinking about issues related to education, income stability and health; meet other young leaders making lasting change in their communities; and more. Time's ticking: the (free) retreat takes place Sept. 12-14 in Alexandria, VA. If that all goes well, maybe you’ll end up starting a Student United Way and getting more deeply involved in the issues that affect your college and community.
-post by Lauri Valerio