By Harry Earle-Mundil
Microactivism, or activism consisting of small-scale actions, is a powerful new way to spread an idea. Social-media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube have made it easier than ever before to tell all your friends, acquaintances and online followers what’s on your mind. A simple status update can take a few seconds to write, but will be seen by anywhere from tens to thousands of people, depending on your online clout.
Facebook is now used by over 500 million people , over half of which log in every day. 28% of 18-34 year olds check Facebook before they get out of bed, and 48% say they get their news from Facebook. Sharing news stories and other items of interest has become commonplace, making the creation of engaging content a priority for media companies and campaigners. That’s how a documentary titled KONY 2012 has been watched 82 million times in the past two weeks. That’s a staggering number. Why has that video been shared between so many people? The answer – just as much time is spent empowering the viewer to understand how their small scale actions can effect large changes, as is spent educating us about the plight of child soldiers in Uganda. The calls to action made by the video prompted viewers to share it and discuss it far more than they would a traditional campaign.
Apart from the broad-scale adoption of social media sites, a major reason for this increased potential for instant word-of-mouth promotion is the rapid expansion in internet usage. More than two billion people are now estimated to use the internet, with over a billion of them from Asia. However, Asia also has below average internet usage, with less than 30% people having internet access. In China, strict internet controls ban Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, putting a serious dampener on online activism in the country. The Chinese alternatives to Facebook status updates and tweets are microblogs, which grew in usage from 8 million users in 2009 to 75 million in 2010 .
The most popular site is Sina Weibo, with well over 30% of Chinese internet users signed up. In January 2011, Yu Jianrong, a social scientist and activist launched a Sina Weibo microblog asking Chinese web-users to take photos of child beggars and upload the pictures to the blog in order to raise awareness of the maltreated children who are often abducted and forced to become beg for money that is then pocketed by their abductors. The response was huge; over 200,000 people now follow the microblog and at least 6 stolen children were rescued over a period of a few weeks. Whilst this doesn’t compare to the number of children rescued in official anti-trafficking efforts, it is a clear demonstration of the power of online microactivism. By the end of this year, the number of Chinese microblog users is estimated to reach 240 million.
The political power of social media hasn’t always been used for good. During the UK riots in August 2011, rioting and looting was coordinated through social networks and instant messaging. However Twitter hashtag #riotcleanup was also used to mobilise thousands of people across the country to arrive at affected areas with brooms and bin-bags, ready to help remedy the damage that had been done.
Political and charitable activism doesn’t have to be undertaken on a grand scale to make a difference. This week, Ecorazzi launched the first annual Microist Day in support of Water.org, a charity that campaigns for clean water and sanitation for everyone around the world. The aim of Microist Day was simple; to dedicate as much social media influence as possible to bring attention to the good work of the charity Water.org. Individuals and organisations, including the International Green Awards donated their status updates, posts and tweets to publicise Water.org and key facts about the water crisis. Future Microist Days can only be more successful, allowing more charities increased media presence and website traffic as a result of users spreading the word through social media.
Hopefully, you this article has made you feel a little more empowered to change the world than you did before. Simply sharing this blog with your social networks could give someone the impetus they need to get involved in an issue they feel passionately about. One status update may just be a drop in the ocean, but a million drops of water make a rainstorm.
Click on the links below to find out more about the campaigns mentioned in this article:
Kony 2012 – Invisible Children
Professor Yu Jianrong’s Microblog to rescue child beggars (in Chinese)
If you are interested in reading more blogs by the International Green Awards, a good place to start would be on the subject of celebrities who use their online following to promote green issues.