The roles of social media in activism can produce some pretty strong debate. On one hand, you have some obvious positives – access to information, communication and calls to action, just to name a few. On the other hand, you have those who fall into the Malcolm Gladwell camp of “clicktivism” or “slacktivism.” Gladwell wrote a piece about the “Arab Spring” in the New Yorker last year that many interpreted as a rebuttal of social media impacts on activism. (Side note: I interviewed Gladwell last year about that piece. He says many people took it the wrong way. Gladwell says he is a fan of social media, but felt it was wrong to give 100% credit to Twitter and Facebook for a human revolution against suffering.)
That debate kicked off a SXSW Eco panel on social media and activism today. The panelists all openly disagreed with Gladwell, saying a click for an online petition or a “Like” on a Facebook page can make a huge difference. In fact, Justin Winters, the CEO of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, said she’s seen first hand the power of a passionate fanbase.
Whether we agree that it’s a good use of time or not, people yearn to know what’s going on with their favorite celebrities. Winters said DiCaprio is an intensely private man, but has utilized the passion and curiosity of his fans to educate them on environmental causes he believes in. In turn, Winters said it is very noticeable through discussions and interaction on social channels that the knowledge base of DiCaprio’s fans has increased over the past couple of years.
Of course, not everyone has the luxury of pushing a cause to 1.5 million followers on Twitter or two million fans on Facebook. But Winters said everyone, no matter how many people they’re communicating with, can improve by focusing on a key things. First, you have to know how to take a dense issue and break it down to short, understandable chunks of information. No one is going to read pages and pages of data. Likewise, visuals are key. Photos and videos can help tell a story in a way you cannot.