A Mini Message from Taylor
Mini Module 1: Your Online Persona
Mini Module 2: Social Media and Activism
Mini Module 3: Safety
What is your online persona? In other words, who are you when you’re on social media? (Hyperlink opens a video where teens discuss how they use their social media.) Some people use social media to connect with friends, family, identity groups and online communities, some people use it to promote themselves, and others just use it for the memes.
I asked some of my colleagues at the Women’s Center how they use social media. Here are their responses:
- “I use social media to stay connected with my friends, stay up to date on the happenings of the world, and figure out what news I need to read/watch.” - Rhianna
- “I use social media to kill time and stay connected with people.” - Hailey
- “I use social media because of work. It’s important to connect people with the Women’s Center, and topics/issues that relate to our mission. If it wasn’t for work, I may not have a social media account.” - Dr. Murray
- “I would say that I mainly use social media to see what’s going on in my friends’ and family’s lives more so than anything. I personally don’t post anything, but I like to look and see what others have shared.” - Makenzie
I personally love using social media to discover new activities, people, and subjects. I recently started using YouTube to watch Yoga with Adriene (hyperlink opens Adriene’s channel on YouTube) so that I don’t have to pay for an expensive membership to a yoga studio. I use Spotify to listen to The Daily (hyperlink opens the podcast on Spotify), a podcast from the New York Times, to keep up on current events and news. I use Instagram to follow artists that inspire me, like South African visual activist Zanele Muholi (hyperlink opens her profile on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/muholizanele/). But my favorite way to utilize social media is for activism, which I will discuss in another mini module. While there are all these great ways to use social media, there can also be some pitfalls to using the apps.
The photos above and below show me following a Yoga with Adriene video for the Mental Health and Perfectionism module.
Social currency is the idea that likes, comments, and retweets act like a form of currency that is exchanged over social media. Those with the most interactions are the “wealthiest.” This form of external validation can be bad when you are not receiving internal validation as well. I urge you to remember that the number of likes, shares, or comments you get on a social media post does not define who you are as a person. You can challenge these negative ideas by using affirmations to validate yourself instead of looking somewhere else for validation.
Instagram recently announced they will allow users on Instagram and Facebook to hide their like counts from other users. If that is something you are interested in doing, here is an article to explain how it works (hyperlink opens an article on Instagram’s website).
Although the concept that people who get more likes on their posts are somehow better than those who don’t get as many is completely arbitrary, social currency can also help us understand the way in which our social media engagement can help us in creating and maintaining a professional presence. You can use it to network with different professionals in the field of your choosing, and you can use it to promote the work you’re doing that you’re proud of.
You can also get connected to professionals who you may not have been able to meet otherwise, like those who may not be commonly represented in the field (hyperlink opens an article by The Conversation).
While creating and maintaining this professional digital image, it’s important to remember that everything you put on the internet will be there forever. If you don’t believe that, try Googling yourself and see what you find (many colleges and jobs are doing this anyway when they receive applications from you). Then watch this TEDxYouth video (video below) where Amber Quinney talks about how she uses social media to her advantage, and what she learned from stepping away from it for six months. Amber also talks about a concept called the “highlight reel.”
What I learned from my social media fast | Amber Quinney | TEDxYouth@Buffalo
This is the idea that social media isn’t always what it seems. Everyone is posting about the best versions of themselves on Instagram, their vacations, fancy dinners, and adventures with friends - but that’s most likely not the entire picture. Sometimes when I see celebrities or influencers post about their amazing lives, I have to remind myself that they also have greasy hair sometimes and stay in bed to watch Netflix all day.
Filters also contribute to the highlight real. Filters and editing apps can sometimes perpetuate unhealthy beauty standards that are physically impossible to live up to. Although there is nothing wrong with using filters, it is important to be able to recognize that some people may be editing their photos.
Here (hyperlink opens the account on Instagram) is an account that displays edited photos of celebrities next to their unedited photos to show the power of photoshop. Emily Clarkson (link opens to her Instagram page) who uses her Instagram account to showcase how photo editing can completely change your reality. The video shows her editing herself to be tanner, have whiter teeth, and even look older to show how drastic photo editing can be.
I often must remind myself that a lot of influencer’s photos are the product of good lighting, editing and strategic poses. I would look the same way in the same circumstances. And even if I didn’t, so what?
The internet is an incredible resource to spend time in a virtual format with the people and things you love most. You can watch videos on YouTube about a topic you’re passionate about or talk to your family on Facebook.
The internet is also an incredible resource to discover things you may not have ever known existed. That is exactly why I am challenging you to a Social Media Scavenger Hunt for the “Learn” section of this module. The goal is for you to discover new places on the internet you can go to cultivate positive experiences. Below is an Instagram stories graphic for you to fill out and post after you’ve completed the activity, as well as some examples completed by my fellow Women’s Center staffers. Happy hunting!
There are so many great ways to use your presence on social media. One of my favorite ways is to promote social change and to be an active participant in social justice movements. I think social media is a fantastic tool for young activists because it allows them to show their support of movements that may be thousands of miles away from them. Here is an article about 6 youth-led political movements to inspire you (hyperlink opens the article). The internet is also a great resource for people to access information about different activist movements and different social issues they might not be intimately familiar with. You can also share this information with your online friends and take part in consciousness raising in your own community.
While we will be discussing the benefits of social media, we also want to acknowledge some of the downsides. Social media can be an incredible resource for people following tragic events, but it can also be misused. Listen to this short podcast clip (hyperlink opens an article that includes the podcast at the end) from a panel discussion on media, tech and social justice. The 2015 panel featured Susan Simpson (Undisclosed), Jackie Zammuto (WITNESS), Carmen Perez (Justice League NYC) and Brandon Blackburn-Dwyer (Global Citizen) discussing how social media can be both beneficial and problematic in the wake of tragic events.
This clip in particular features Brandon Blackburn-Dwyer, who talks about how social media encouraged people to perform incredible acts of kindness after the 2015 Paris attacks, but also how they have the potential to cause a lot of harm as well, e.g. extremist groups using social media to find like-minded people and coordinate attacks. Feel free to listen to the rest of the panel discussion by clicking on the blue play button at the bottom right corner of the clip to open the podcast’s page.
During the Black Lives Matter protests last summer (2020), I felt powerless to help. I couldn’t go and show my support by attending any protests because of concerns about being exposed to the coronavirus. Instead, I went on Instagram and told my followers, via the “stories” feature, that I would paint them anything they wanted if they donated to a Black Lives Matter fund of their choosing. I ended up raising a couple hundred dollars for BLM funds across the United States, and I also felt a sense of agency that I hadn’t before (one of the paintings I created is pictured below).
This is a perfect example that activism and advocacy look different for everyone based on our abilities. Some may be able to donate funds, while some can share information with our networks on social media. Some of us may be able to march in protests, while some take their friends to different community organizing events. There is not one “right way” to be an advocate, there are so many ways to contribute!
I encourage you to watch this video from CBC News (hyperlink opens the video on YouTube) about how teen activists are using social media. After you watch the video, read the questions below and answer them with those around you.
- Who is a social justice activist you are inspired by? What is a topic or social justice movement that you feel passionately about?
- How have you seen people your own age make a difference and impact by utilizing social media?
- How can you use your social media platform to advocate for the causes you are passionate about?
How teen activists are mobilizing using social media | The Weekly with Wendy Mesley
It is important to remember to make sure that the content you create or share has intentional meaning behind it. Otherwise, you may be contributing to performative activism. Performative activism is very surface level —it has more to do with the individual than with the actual cause they are promoting. The motivations behind performative activism are to increase one's own social capital, a concept we talk about in the Your Online Persona Mini Module. It means posting content on social media so that others might think you’re “woke” without contributing in any meaningful way or changing your own viewpoint.
Social media can be an incredible resource to promote social change if used properly. Many of the world’s largest activist organizations have been created by youth, just like you. But you don’t have to start out your social media activism journey by creating a national organization. You can start small, just like I did with my twitter campaign to paint for the Black Lives Matter movement. Any amount of energy that you put into a cause that you care about is valuable energy well spent, as long as you have the right intentions and are listening and amplifying the voices of those impacted and doing the work.
Yes, there is! Here is a worksheet for you to fill out (link opens to the worksheet). I want you to do research into an activist of your choice. Find out where they’re from, what causes they’ve been involved in, etc. Then I want you to do more research into the causes they were involved in to get a better understanding of their work. Pay special attention to who was involved in these causes and who was not, plus any critiques of the causes, organizations, or individuals and, most importantly, have fun!
No matter how you chose to use social media, whether it be for business or pleasure, I encourage you to be proactive in your privacy settings on each platform you use. Here is an article that explains how to set privacy settings on a multitude of different platforms (hyperlink opens the article). Here are articles to explain how to set privacy settings on Tiktok and Snapchat (hyperlinks open the articles, respectively). Setting your accounts to private and managing who can view your stories can be very beneficial. However, always remember privacy always has its limits, so it’s important to remember that even if you’re private, people can still potentially see your posts from screenshots. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!
Another thing to keep in mind is to never share your password with anyone other than a trusted adult or guardian. You never have to share your password with someone that you date or someone that you are friends with to gain their trust; trust should be established outside of social media. Your partner also should have no control over what, when, or how you post on your social media.
The first thing you should always do if you are being bullied, both online and in person, is to tell a trusted adult. This is also important if you see someone else being bullied, which we will discuss further down below. They can really help you when dealing with the complex emotions that you may be feeling, and/or help get the bullying to stop. Stopbullying.gov also has a lot of resources available for both kids and adults when they are dealing with bullying, so feel free to check out that website here if you ever need advice (hyperlink opens the website).
One effective way to deal with bullies online is to simply block them. If you block them, they no longer have access to your profile. They will not receive a notification that you’ve blocked them and can only see if they try to look up your profile, so there is also limited confrontation involved in this step. You can also mute accounts on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Here is an article on how to do that on all three platforms (hyperlink opens the article). Users will not be able to see that they are muted at all, but you will no longer see their posts on your feed.
Stand up for others. Again, you can always tell a trusted adult who can help you deescalate the situation. Outside of the online world, you can also make sure that they know they’re not alone. Sit with them at lunch, hang out with them at recess, and invite them to participate in activities. Feeling included can go a long way to help someone who is being bullied. Visit this website for more information on how to stick up for others (hyperlink opens stopbullying.gov).
Putting yourself out there to advocate for a cause that you are passionate about can lead to trolls, or someone who posts rude things online to provoke others, engaging with your posts on social media. As always, let your guardian or trusted adult know if someone is engaging with you in a negative way on social media. You can also block them, mute them, or ignore them, just like any other person on social media. There is also the option to report those who are being abusive. Internet abuse can look like many different things, like using hate speech, posting your personal information without your consent, or making you feel bad about yourself. Here is an article that explains how to report trolls on social media (hyperlink opens the article).
You are not obligated to defend your opinions on social media with people who are simply trying to make you feel bad. A lot of trolls are not interested in having a serious, civil conversation with you and only want to cause you emotional distress, so it's best to avoid them at all costs.
If you are going through a tough time dealing with backlash from activist work, remember why you are doing it in the first place. The good of the cause may give you all the motivation you need to continue with your work. If you are still struggling, reach out to your support system for help. And remember that if it’s too much for you to handle, there are always different ways to engage in activism that might suit you better! Check out our mini module on social media and activism for more ideas.