If social injustice campaigns like Occupy Wallstreet and KONY 2012 have taught us anything, it’s that the use of social media to galvanize and organize protests is powerful and potentially dangerous all at once.
The most recent social injustice movement has been #JusticeForTrayvon, the online-born movement led by those who are distraught and fed up with the discriminatory justice system and perpetual violence against Black people. Right now, there is social unrest sweeping over the nation as a result of the verdict in the Zimmerman trial. Although this is still a very sensitive, passionate, and busy subject for America, is it only a moment in time? Social media activism—derisively known as "clicktivism" and "slactivism" are often accompanied by a forgetfulness that can be a real opponent to social injustice movements like the one that has sparked in the wake of the killing of the unarmed Florida teen.
Daniel Maree, the creative behind the Million Hoodies campaign, admits to the risks associated with a trendy social movement. He acknowledges the connection between #JusticeForTrayvon, #KONY2012 and #Occupy as “they were all born in sort of the same belly–the way they were started and generated attention.” He adds, though, that all of the campaigns engaged in a much-needed new approach to injustice.
“There’s an opportunity for a new model for fighting for civil rights. Using social media. Leveraging creativity,” says Maree. “We’re cultural engineers and we’re capable of creating change and demand. Not only for products but for movements.”
Last year, after hearing about what happened to Trayvon Martin, he created the online petition that called for the arrest and prosecution of George Zimmerman. He maintains that it was clicktivism that ignited the need for justice and pushed Martin’s story into the national dialogue.
“One of the most important things you can do is raise it to the level of popular culture,” he admits. “We’re tapped into the culture. You have to simply understand what is the cultural zeitgeist at the time.”
But with the burgeoning exposure #JusticeForTrayvon has received also comes the likely side effects to social phenomenon: a looming expiration date. After the Twitter topics are no longer trending, profile pictures are no longer changes and the news cycle has transitioned, will the once-fervent supporters dwindle?
The founders of Invisible Children discovered the risks first hand when they launched the KONY 2012 campaign to catch Joseph Kony, a wanted African warlord. The organizers leveraged social media in getting their message out and it worked. A 30-minute video, starring founder Jason Russell and his son, amassed more than 100 million views in less than a week. Not only did they reach their goal of making Kony infamous, but they also raised $20 million in campaign funds along the way.
The real battle came after the media cycle had transitioned and it was left to Invisible Children to convert the online advocacy and admiration to offline action. Following the digital push, thousands of supporters marched in Washington DC to advocate for the KONY 2012 Resolution to be supported by Congress and even less showed up to lobby their members of Congress. Noelle West, communications director for Invisible Children, said that even though that’s comparably less than the millions that originally supported the movement digitally, “every level of engagement led to the sum of the results.”
“Clicktivists know that their status updates do not translate into results 1:1. They believe, rather, that an unrelenting commitment to conversation (whether through comments, replies, retweets, or shares) is a place to start.” West says the trick to increasing offline support is providing clear and appropriate direction and next steps for those that are willing to take action: “We do the leg work to establish how we can best use the energy of our supporters and then present them with those activities.”
Consistent offline initiatives are also critical. To this day, Invisible Children is still pushing for justice through face-to-face programming–as seen in their upcoming Fourth Estate Leadership Summit.
Even though there has already been spurts of offline protests, #JusticeForTrayvon is still floating in the digital space waiting for a clear and focused representation of what “justice” looks like and how to obtain it.
Recently, the National Action Network has initiated a petition to urge the State Department to investigate George Zimmerman, the NAACP has done the same for the Justice Department. But Maree says that’s not enough.
“Trayvon Martin is just the tip of it. We really have the responsibility to be forward thinking. We’re going to go beyond and toward legislative change.”
Since Maree organized the first Hoodie-March at Union Square last year, he has made MillionHoodies a 501c3 non-profit. His mission? To ignore the risks of clicktivism and use “basic advertising pencils” to raise awareness, grow membership, and “change the model of civil rights in this country."
We don't yet know what the future of #JusticeForTrayvon will look like. However, we must be reminded that while a charge for true social change can start on the internet, it cannot stay there.