Beyond “Trending” and Towards Change

Written by: Sydney Wilburn

I, along with most of my peers, have experienced in my teenage and young adult years the age of social media activism. It seems like every large social movement I remember from about middle school to the present has either had its start on social media or runs a heavy social media campaign (KONY 2012, anyone?). Especially with the political climate we find ourselves in now, it seems like a new hashtag (#DressLikeAWoman, #NastyWoman) or Facebook profile picture filter (“I Stand With Refugees”) pops up on my feed every few days. Part of me is in awe of the world of social media we live in today– how a movement can spread like wildfire all across the globe in a matter of hours and bring people together in support — or opposition– of a cause in incredible, unprecedented ways. Social media is a powerful tool for social activism– but it shouldn’t stop there.

First Lady Michelle Obama showing her support of the #BringBackOurGirls social movement in 2014. 

As Zeynep Tufecki said in her TED Talk in 2015, “a network of tweets can unleash a global awareness campaign.” Though Tufecki acknowledges social media’s power to connect and empower people to spread a message they’re passionate about, she also compares social movements of today to those in the 20th century, before Twitter and Facebook– and even computers and cell phones.


Before this powerful networking tool was in our hands, those at the head of political and social activism spread the word in other ways. Though word-of-mouth, posters, and even TV news may have been slower to pass along the message at the time of civil rights protests and sit-ins, for example, Tufecki claims that these movements of old are usually more organized, and as a result, stronger and more sustainable than those begun and continued through social media today. She explains that because organizations leading a movement needed to have stronger leadership before social media in order to spread the word and cause, their organization as a whole was more organized and able to sustain their mission and purpose longer than some “fad” social movements we see today trending on Twitter.

Tufecki said “digital awareness…is great because changing minds is the bedrock of changing politics….but movements today have to move beyond participation of great scale very fast and figure out how to think together, collectively.” If we already have this powerful tool of communication in the hands of today’s great political and social movements, it staggers me to imagine what they could do with more organization, leadership, and cohesion to support their cause past their trending hashtag.


Sichynsky , Tanya . “These 10 Twitter hashtags changed the way we talk about social issues.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 21 Mar. 2016. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.

Tsukayama, Hayley. “Essay: It takes more than social media to make a social movement.” Daily Herald. Washington Post, 03 Feb. 2017. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.

Tufekci, Zeynep. “Online social change: easy to organize, hard to win.” TED Talk. N.p., Oct. 2014. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.

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UNT Eagle Strategies

Class members of the social media class in the Mayborn School of Journalism