A Fordham Girl’s View on Social Media and Activism

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By Sophie DeMuth

Since the start of his campaign until now - just over two years into his term, President Trump has made the longstanding issues of our country more and more apparent. From branding an entire ethnicity as “rapists” to even boasting of sexually assaulting women, Trump has normalized bigotry and angered many of us in the Fordham community. As a response, I have seen a wave of reactions on social media calling for change. We as Fordham students have the opportunity to make this change, but it is imperative, however, that we extend our voices beyond posts and into real action.  

In our digital age, social media is one of, if not the most, powerful tools that we have to start a conversation and encourage action because it provides us with a platform of instantaneous communication.

Fordham freshman Chrissy Southard, who sees calls for change on her timeline becoming more and more apparent, agrees, saying that social media “helps because it gets the word out, and it helps to give publicity to what you are trying to convey.”

For example, I posted the New York Times letter of support to Christine Blasey Ford during Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing to show my followers that I stand with her and that they would repost the image to display their solidarity to their followers as well. Similarly, larger organizations that plan real action in response to Trump’s agenda use social media as the main platform for their messages. The most prominent movement that I see in response to Trump is the Women’s March, and the 2.6 billion impressions that #womensmarch received on the day of the first march clearly show that social media is a powerful reactionary tool to generate real, positive change.

Although real action, and not social media, is what makes real change, sites like Instagram and Facebook are great platforms to get a movement started. Ryan Pfingst, another freshman here at Fordham sees social media as a strength to social justice campaigns because “it allows social justice movements to speak directly to their audience instead of going through the press, which means they can better control the message.”

Because of their viral online presence after Trump’s election, word of the Women’s March spread rapidly and an estimated three million people showed up in metropolitan areas in the U.S. on January 21, 2017. Without the ability to spread their message on social media, such an amazing turnout would not have been possible. When I saw the hundreds of thousands of people in D.C. in 2017 advocating not only for women’s rights, but a diverse array of issues like environmental sustainability and immigrant rights, I was hopeful and excited to see what these movements would accomplish in the years to come.

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Unfortunately, turnout for these marches has been declining rapidly, even though we are only halfway through Trump’s first term. The 2019 Women’s March nationwide garnered only an estimated 700,000 participants compared to 2017’s three million. While the reasons for the decline in motivation to participate in these marches are complex and nuanced on a person-to-person basis, I see social media as one of the key overarching factors.

I think part of the success of the first Women’s March came from the hype around its potential historical significance. Personally, I was most excited about the fact that I would be part of history and not that my participation could actually make a difference.

And what better way to show my part in history to the world by solidifying it on the Internet forever?

Southard critically agrees, saying “It makes for a good Instagram photo.” In a similar take on the issue, Rachel Malak, a junior here at Fordham, feels that,

“[Social media] can lead us to believe, at least to an extent, that retweeting an article or reposting an Instagram story is enough. It’s not. [...] It’s going to take so much work on so many levels to make the kind of change we’re looking for.”

Reflecting on my own activism, I see myself falling back on social media as an easy out. Especially in high school, when I did not feel particularly educated enough on an issue to participate in real action, I relied on social media to show my support for the sentiments of it. As I’ve grown in my journey of awareness and self-education of our nation’s issues, I’ve come to realize that my post with the catchy phrase “nasty woman” is not what will make the President sign a bill that mandates paid maternity leave for women in America.

Ultimately, the point I am trying to make is that social media is not the end-all-be-all of making change. Because of its prominence in our culture, it is certainly the most convenient and fast way to generate support for an issue. However, this convenience can be a double-edged sword. For me, it is easy to post a photo on my story and then feel like my work is done. But the only way to actually make change is through direct action.

Anyone can show their support and participation for a movement on social media, but not everyone has the opportunities that we as Fordham students possess to get directly involved. It is these opportunities that we must take advantage of to help sustain motivation for movements like the Women’s March, even after Trump has left office. Here are four ways that we can use our privilege as Fordham students to generate real change now and for years to come:

  1. Volunteer: One of the best ways to support an issue that you care about and to see change happen in your community through hands-on action is to volunteer for a candidate’s campaign that you support. Because we spend most of the year here in New York City, here is a list of candidates for various local positions like city council and district attorney. If volunteering directly with a candidate may not fit into your schedule or isn’t your style, here are some advocacy organizations based in NYC that help support criminal justice, human rights, and sustainability efforts. Swing Left is another great resource for left-leaning students that can help you find volunteer opportunities in swing districts in your area. These organizations have options for direct involvement, or more simple but equally valuable efforts like donation.

  2. Call or text: Calling or texting representatives when important policy is on the table is a quick and easy way to make your voice heard. It also allows you be a little more involved in making change and extend your action past sharing a link on Facebook.

  3. Take advantage of our city: As residents of New York City, we have the privilege to attend rallies and marches and physically show support for the issues that we care about. Many people in America do not have this ability to attend gatherings like this simply because of where they live, so I encourage everyone to take advantage of the value of our location while we can.

  4. VOTE!: I believe voting is one of the best ways to actively participate in changing the tides. It is our civic duty, and not voting makes us indifferent to the policies that have direct influence on millions of lives (and our own).

These are just a few ways that we as Fordham students can help maintain the motivation behind issues that we wish to change. Keep using social media, because it can be a great way to show support for people and issues that you care about. It is equally, and perhaps even more important, however, to view posts as supplements to action. If an article moves you to share the link with your followers, take one more step past just sharing it and ask yourself: What can I do to support or help this issue? Even just starting a dialogue with your friends about the issue is one more action you can take beyond just pressing “post.”

Right now, America’s motivation is already waning in the effort to fix issues like racism and sexism that Trump so confidently expresses. While he makes these problems so obvious to America, they will not go away even when he does, which makes future action so important. So far, advocates on social media have done amazing work by generating support for issues like women’s rights, environmental sustainability, criminal justice, and gun reform. The online support for these movements is exciting and hopeful, but the progress cannot stop there. By using our privileges as Fordham students, it is now time to carry our action beyond social media and rallying in the streets to getting directly involved with those who make the change - our government. Whether your participation comes in the form of taking to the polls or weekly volunteering at a campaign, you are making a difference. We have the potential to make real change because we have the numbers and we have the opportunities, but it is our responsibility to use the opportunities to see the change we want become reality.