Unit 2: A Look to the Past: History of Social Movements and Media Advocacy

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Recommended Book: Social Movements and New Technologies by Victoria Carty


The Impact of Technology

Technology is a neutral tool that can be used for progressive and reactionary social movements. I am not saying that all digital technologies are good or progressive, or that they are the only method for social movements. However, there is no doubt that social movements using social media or other forms of media related technologies have a huge impact. Posting on Facebook, sending out a tweet, all are ways to quickly disseminate information to the world.

Today we have digital natives, typically those born between 1980 and 2000. Before, communication was initiated, shared, and sustained among people who knew each other personally. It took effort by both the receiver and sender of information to keep the communication going. Fast forward to 2009 where the average teen sends over 3000 messages on Twitter per month. Even the Catholic Church, which is known for being conservative, has a Youtube Channel and apps. Have you downloaded The Pope app yet?

A little history. We all know about the Printing press and have heard of Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense, which advocated for US independence from Britain. Since he could not travel across America to share his work, he encouraged people to copy his work, print it, and share it. The idea of free sharing is similar to the current peer-to-peer sharing of digital information.

Social Movements have been occurring for hundreds of years. New and ever-changing media platforms have an even larger impact than before. New technology allows social workers to not merely be receivers of messages but also the creators and distributors. Distribution is now immediate, global, and usually free... available to every day individuals.

The Power of One

Social Media and the Internet allow individuals to bypass traditional, more controlled, media outlets. It lets us overcome the lack of physical proximity. There is a power in instant videos where we can record experiences, conditions, events and instantly share with others.

Think of the most recent social media movements: BlackLivesMatter, Ice Bucket challenge, Occupy Movements, Moveon.org.

One person can make a difference. Look at the woman who started a change.org petition against Bank of Americas $5/month fee for debit cards. The petition was a success and there was no fee increase. This saved Americans billions. Another example is the American Airlines flight in 2009 where passengers were on the tarmac for 8 hours. They ran out of food, water, and the toilets overflowed. Through another change.org petition, a national movement was sparked. Individuals began to lobby to Congress for an Airline Passengers Bill of Rights.

Individuals can spark large movements and get people active. Not all are good. For example, The Islamic State, aka ISIS, uses social media as a main recruiting tool.

However, as social workers, we can use our knowledge and passion for advocacy to make a broader change.


Link to the Discussion tab at the top left hand side of the page to participate in the learning activity.

There are other videos and audio pieces which will provide more detail. However, typically if you want to reach a larger audience you need to begin with a compelling story. That will begin to raise awareness which will ignite engagement. Engagement will create a stronger movement and that can lead to social change. Sounds easy, right?

Of course there is more to it than that, however, we have to start somewhere. Think about an issue that you are passionate about and want to raise more awareness of. Who is your audience and how can you engage them? What is your pitch, how do you make the general public care about your topic?

To Do

Next Module you will be working on Podcasts. Use this Google Sheet to sign-up with one peer to be your partner. (Link removed)


Proceed to Unit 3 Unit_3:_The_Basics:_Radio_and_Podcasting

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