How to Be a Good Digital Advocate

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot about society and how humans interact. One of the main advances has been the use of social media. Since much of the past two years have been spent in isolation and away from strangers, people have taken to social media to stay connected with others. Additionally, there has been a surge in the use of social media to promote advocacy. People are no longer just using these apps to post food they bought at restaurants or a picture on the beach with their friends. It is also being used to spread links to petitions, share stories, and get local politicians involved. So what does it mean to be a good digital advocate? How can you use social media to promote the well-being of others?

Some of the most prominent apps used among young adults are TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. These apps have become a great way to promote social justice because of their capability to reach so many people in such a short amount of time, for free. To best use these apps to one’s advantage, one first must look at their audience and what it is they are trying to advocate for. To know one’s audience is to know how to best connect and resonate with them. Forbes best describes digital advocacy as using five steps: gather, educate, organize, act, and measure. After gathering information on who one’s audience is, the proper way to educate becomes clear. This type of education could include an Instagram story talking about the top five reasons why you should be registered to vote, or a TikTok commenting on a protest coming up in a week.

In the summer of 2020, after the murder of George Floyd, there was a huge surge of involvement in the Black Lives Matter movement. Since this surge coincided with the COVID-19 Pandemic, advocacy was mostly happening online, with the exception of in-person protests. Influencers used their platforms to find safe ways to protest during the pandemic, like spreading information about protests on TikTok. Instagram and Facebook were also instrumental in organizing these protests and promoting participation from people across the country. These uses of social media to spread awareness allowed for people to speak their minds freely and share information from the safety of their own homes. In addition, it became popular during the pandemic to see petitions shared across social media platforms. In fact, George Floyd’s change.org petition got 19,697,310 signatures. It was common for people to post “check out the link in my bio!” in which it took two clicks for someone to get easy access to information on a topic and its corresponding petition. Snapchat also has a new feature where one can add a link to their post, so when someone is scrolling and comes across their story, they can be easily transported to the associated petition. These features are all great ways to use social media to properly advocate. However, there are some pitfalls one must watch out for so that they don’t use social media in a harmful way.

One example of bad digital advocacy was the #blackouttuesday trend on Instagram. This trend stormed everyone’s feed with posts of a black square. The original purpose of the black square was for people to show support and stand in solidarity against the murder of George Floyd. However, this trend is one that backfired. Rebecca Heilweil from Recode by Vox states, “Activists are now criticizing Blackout Tuesday posts that use the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag for being not just unhelpful but also counterproductive for those looking for critical information and resources related to anti-police brutality demonstrations”. This is a great example of performative activism, something to be very cognizant of when advocating digitally. Chelsea Candelario from PureWow states, “Performative activism (also known as performative wokeness or allyship) is supporting a cause or issue to garner attention, support or monetization from others rather than actually caring about making a difference in the cause”. In order to be a good digital advocate, one must make strides to post about things that actually matter and make a difference, not just to draw attention to themselves or receive a pat on the back. The black square is a good example of this because a lot of people were posting it out of fear of persecution if they didn’t. There was no helpful information spread by the square; in fact, it suppressed information from being easily accessible.

Another great way to promote good digital advocacy is through the use of social media for raising money. GoFundMe is an online fundraising platform that has become very popular for raising money for and donating to a variety of causes. It is easy to make an account and is extremely accessible. As with petitions, it can take just one quick click to take you to someone’s page that provides information on the cause, and how much more money it will take to reach their goal. Additionally, links to a GoFundMe page are commonly found on many of the other social media apps mentioned above, such as Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook.

During elections, social media can become another great avenue for advocacy. By spreading awareness on polling places, sharing debates, and posting politicians’ platforms, more people are likely to go to the polls. The Get Out The Vote Campaign is also crucial to gaining support right up to the day of an election. It is quite common for people to intend to go out and vote but will end up forgetting the day of, or will have other things come up that take priority. Therefore, Get Out The Vote focuses on intense campaigning the days leading up to an election to make sure people know when and where to go to vote. Using social media apps to promote this information is an easy way to get people involved. 

Though the use of social media apps has been extremely beneficial, bad digital advocacy is still present and is something one must look out for. There is still potential for spreading misinformation, the use of clickbait, and scams. One should do their own research when it comes to finding information and should identify and trust only reliable sources. If using social media carefully, it is still a great tool for advocacy and spreading awareness.

Ultimately, social media has a large impact on young adults today and will not be disappearing anytime soon. In order to best advocate for what you believe in, learning the best apps to use and how to use them can drastically increase those joining in support of your cause. Spreading awareness is one of the main ways to start getting people involved. When you start being a good digital advocate, others will follow in your footsteps.