Social Media is Slowing Social Justice


It seems that every other week a new national protest is broadcast across the news; protests like the women’s march and march for our lives.

Each month there are more protests with more people, but policies don’t seem to be evolving with them. The amount of people who show opposition to the government does not seem proportional to the amount of legislation being changed.

I am on the more liberal side of things with my opinions about climate change and social justice. I go to a liberal school where it is almost commonplace for people to announce a protest that we should attend, or when and where a rally will be. I would (for the most part) agree with the cause, but like many others, I wouldn’t go to the protest. It’s partly because it feels like it’s enough to just support them, but I am used to hearing about protests that are too far away to support. I am used to just doing that. It is also because it feels like recently nothing has actually changed. 

After hearing about so many protests being ignored, you start to wonder, what are we doing wrong?


First, we need to understand

What Protests Made A Difference?

The point of a protest is to change the status quo, by demonstrating strength in numbers, determination, and sometimes a willingness to disrupt society. Protests trigger discussions and bring attention to causes people find worth fighting for and have proved themselves a valid strategy multiple times throughout American History.

The Progressive Era

(“Woodrow Wilson.”)


Suffragette Movement

(“Susan B. Anthony”)


Civil Rights Movement


 The Progressive Era was a period social activism and political change throughout the United States that was a result of the industrial revolution. During that period, unrestrained businesses with monopolies tried to maintain power and profits and would exploit their workers and buyers. This resulted in unmonitored products and working conditions, unfair hours and pay, poverty and overcrowding in cities slums, rampant alcohol abuse, and large corporate companies controlling the government (Milkis). The people who were being affected were in the lower class, and their population dwarfed the rich at a ratio of 3,000 to 1 (Rothman). If they desired so they could easily have overthrown the upper class. But the actions of the masses were largely characterized by patience, and mostly limited to unionizing, marches, lobbying, picketing, and worker strikes. The people were pacified when Teddy Roosevelt became president in 1901, and later, President Woodrow Wilson made and enforced policies that reduced many of the problems. These President’s political power was the final push the millions of progressives needed to achieve their goals.
The suffragette movement started in the 1800’s but truly started making progress during the progressive era. Led by passionate and compelling leaders like Carrie Chapman Catt, Lucy Burns, and Alice Paul, the suffragette movement achieved their goal and got a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote ratified. They used the media of the time to gain followers, as well as public demonstrations to spread their goal. They were extremely dedicated, traveling from state to state in an era before airplanes and highways, and picketing outside of the white house for months. As the support for their movement grew, so did the opposition. Despite being heckled and attacked in the streets and the media, they continued their work, even using the violence perpetrated against them and prison sentences imposed on them to gain empathy and show their dedication (“Women’s Suffrage.”).
Under the unwavering leadership of Martin Luther King Jr. people all over the nation participated in this movement for equality under the law. They constantly proved their dedication; were attacked during peaceful protests, were arrested and even killed.  They boycotted segregated services for months, and arduously planned protests and gatherings. The March on Washington in 1963 was the peak of this movement and displayed peoples willingness to fight for their cause. It was this assembly that, after many months, convinced the government to outlaw segregation (“Civil Rights Movement”)

Each of these movements was characterized by strong leaders who carried them from the local to national levels.



This all seems very different compared to the

Present Day

Occupy Wall Street

(ª/ ✕)

Black Lives Matter



(“Por Que o Feminismo Da Globo Nos Incomoda Tanto.”)

Occupy Wall Street started as a “grassroots” based protest in 2011. It quickly grew over social media and the cause spread to hundreds of cities. All over the country people made encampments and marched in the streets. It developed to oppose corporate corruption, especially that of large banks. It became a media phenomenon and every politician gave their two cents on it. People proposed laws to their state governments, and regardless of the support from celebrities and politicians, little happened. It has been seven years and many of the legal loopholes still exist and are still being exploited and there are current efforts to reopen those that were closed (Xia). But the OWS has already had its five minutes of fame, no one seems to care anymore and no one can remember who its leaders were.
The BLM movement started in 2013 after a Facebook post by Alicia Garza brought attention to the institutionalized racism in America. It has member based leadership and is supported nationwide. It has gained much attention in the media and started many controversial conversations. The main focus of the movement has shifted towards police violence after social media exposing innocent people being killed by the police (Black Lives Matter). It has sparked debates over monitoring police, but other than a few body cams, nothing has been officially revised. However, the growing awareness of institutionalized racism has started even more arguments about lobbyist and is bringing to awareness the lingering racism from the history of our country (Cobb).
Today’s feminist movement is all about subconscious sexism. It no longer focuses on legal rights, but more on how mindsets oppress people. It focuses on how, while they might not know it, people have biases that affect those around them (Livni). By working as a mass, in public and on social media people are are trying to fight against and destigmatize societies ideas of how women and men should act. After Donald Trump, who’s been accused of sexual misconduct 20 times (“Donald Trump Sexual Misconduct Allegations.”), was elected president, the Women’s March was held across the United States. Starting with a Facebook post, it was the largest demonstration in United States history (Chenoweth). There is no logical reason that accusations of sexual assault tend to be discredited, and now people are bringing more attention to the injustice of the issue and are forcing people to stop looking the other way by sharing their stories with the #MeToo movement (Langone). And yet, there is no immediate action that can be taken to change a national mindset.





Gun Restrictions


The LGBTQ community has been making significant progress with societal attitudes, at least in some locations. The internet provides a safe space for people to talk with others experiencing the same thing. The spread of LGBTQ awareness and support has only helped further the movement. Pride parades occurred nationwide and helped bring positive awareness to the issues. After many small steps state by state, same-sex marriage became legal, but not because of the action of protesters or legislators (“LGBT Rights in the United States.”). Instead, it was by decisions in the courts. In California, these initial decisions resulted in an anti-gay marriage proposition being approved by the voters. It was only the outcome of a California Supreme Court ruling that made same-sex marriage possible. This outcome has been repeated in the Federal Courts (“Freedom to Marry”).
Regard for the environment started a long ago, but recently with the new awareness about global warming, there has been much more action towards protecting. Since the early 2000 people have been trying to better their habits for the good of the earth. In 2015, the USA participated at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, where goals were set, benefiting the world (Farber). Unfortunately, this all culminated in the election of Donald Trump who has withdrawn the United States from the Global Climate Change Agreement and promised to help coal companies (Friedman). People continue to protest, some gaining support over the internet as with the Standing Rock Protest. But in other locations, national monuments have been reduced and opened to exploitation despite the overwhelming opposition nationwide (McKenna).
The gun restriction debate has become the main focus for activists at the end of 2017. There were two consecutive shootings at an Orlando Florida with 49 deaths and one in Los Vegas with 59 deaths and hundreds injured (Manella). People grew even more frustrated after 12 weeks into the new year, there were 19 school shootings (Ahmed). It became such a common thing that you could see people live-tweeting it and survivors helping each other through it (Griggs). After the shooting that killed 17 at Parkland Florida, the students there started to mobilize, a notable leader being Emma Gonzalez. They confronted the state about gun laws, and have scheduled walkouts and marches on Washington, and have quickly gained support from all over the country. The government has yet to do something about it, but tension is rising and the pressure is on (Williams).


All these movements have had varying success rates and all have one thing in common; social media.

The Rise of Technology

Through social media, news spreads fast. It only takes seconds to spread the word. This gives movement lots of recognition. People group and protests expand exponentially faster and in much larger numbers. It only takes one post, and few minutes, to plan and then only weeks to act on it. The coverage these protests get is far more wide-reaching, and the support it gets is from across the nation. With easy access, people can share their ideas, and everyone has equal potential for space in the limelight (Tierney).

While technology and social media help in some areas, ironically it is harmful in the exact same way.

Are there aspects of the past that are being overlooked?




“Never half ass two things, whole ass one thing.” -Ron Swanson (Parks and Rec)

Today can be seen as the new progressive era, multiple issues being confronted from the new gilded age (Clark). We have plenty of things to complain about, but what we’re lacking is a strong leader who can rally people to solve one problem at a time. Social media has allowed peoples attention to be divided and they are being concurred. There is no dedication to one cause, but it is hard to be dedicated when you see all the things you want to fight for affecting people daily (DeRoo). But something must be prioritized, bureaucracy is slow, and the government is splintered into many parts. It can really only cause nationwide change one thing at a time. The whole country needs to lead to help them pick which thing comes first. In the past, it was the poor and working class people were given protection, then women getting the right to vote, then the ending of racial segregation, and then the legalization of same-sex marriage. It doesn’t matter if the cause is gaining support alongside another, the process of legalizing, implementing, or changing something can only handle one at a time (Staehly). 

But things may be changing. Right now anti-Trumpism seems to be a central focus. In addition, the highly motivated, articulate survivors of the Parkland shooting appear to be providing social media savvy leadership. They are becoming recognizable and memorable figures at a time when few of us can recall any names or faces associated with BLM, OWS or most of the other movements. If the support for this cause continues unwavering, permanent change might be a real possibility. As dire as the other causes may seem, the public has chosen this one and it’s too late to back out. If none of this is successful, and another national debate is started to be careful about how you decide to act. It is hard to try and focus on one problem when there are so many, but right now it seems like too many focuses are what is hindering change. Delete your Facebook or at least be skeptical about what you read on it. Do your own research. Prioritize your own causes. Protest selectively.  Know how far you really need to go for your cause. And above all, vote.

Protesting is an endurance run, not a sprint. Unfortunately, weekly fads and instant gratification are exactly how the internet works; and the number of people who are following the headline can only compensate for that so much. In the past, people were forced to start from the bottom; plan out their movement, gain followers locally, and truly dedicate themselves to the cause. It took time and effort to make a change. All that time was time spent planning, developing leaders, finding dedicated followers, and communicating their goal. The time spent working at city and state level is almost like a test run, work out the kinks, finalize your message and plan, learn what works and what doesn’t, who has power and who doesn’t. When the cause spreads, there will already be a foundation of solid supporters, even if you didn’t make a national change, state or city changes are still an accomplishment (Kutateli). These days, people will gather but because there was limited communication and planning, there is nothing for them to do next and they leave. Many peoples support is limited to comments on a website or social media or even as little as a “like”(DeRoo). Without something to follow, be it a person or a plan, people will lose interest and until the next disaster comes and renews their fervor. Change won’t happen if, for every step you take you have to wait for something horrible to inspire you to do something, the action has to be one step ahead. People need to be devoted to a cause to keep that interest, to keep pressing for change (Reynolds). 


Made with Padlet


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ª/ ✕,

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Share this project
  1. April 27, 2018 by Hannah.Filby

    First off, this is such an interesting topic to tackle considering a lot of people believe social media is a major tool in achieving social justice. I think the way you highlighted social media as a way of spreading word about different ways to catalyze change, but also how it can be problematic, was really well done. I never really thought much about how social media could hinder the process of social justice in some ways, but after reading through your project I completely agree. What really stuck with me was how you talked about social media making it harder to focus on one social justice issue, therefore we are distracted by all of the different issue. The conclusion I got from your project was basically that while most of us what to see change for people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, gun control laws, etc., we need to be able to devote our attention to one issue at a time in order to make a change. Great job!

  2. April 28, 2018 by Kate.Miller

    Hey Lauren! I read the title of your site as I was scrolling through the catalyst conference website and it immediately grabbed my attention because the idea of social media negatively impacting Social Justice movements is something that had never crossed my mind. One line from your site that really stood out to me was when you said, “Protesting is an endurance run, not a sprint. Unfortunately, weekly fads and instant gratification are exactly how the internet works.” My question for you is since social media is such a relevant element of our lives and gives us a platform to reach a large amount of people, how can it be used instead to further the social justice movement?

  3. April 29, 2018 by Alex Martha

    I thought your title was very compelling, and was lead me to come and read over your project. The thought that social media is slowing social justice never crossed my mind before reading you project. Not only was your project very well organized and formatted, but it was also very informative. I like how you first went into the history of different social justice movements, then you went into the current ones and displayed how social media was slowing each one. I thought this was a really great project that more people should read.

  4. April 30, 2018 by Talia.Cieslinski

    This is such a great project! I love how you connect the history to the present in order to prove your point. I thought it was a very original idea and it was carried out so well! I never thought about the “slowing” of social justice as a facet of social media, but once I read this it made a ton of sense.

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