People frequently feel the need to defend their rights, and one of the most common ways of doing so is the initiation of a social movement. In such campaigns, activists announce their desire to gain equality, obtain freedom of expression, and thus be released from oppression. While social movements have a rich history, divergences in the methods of their organization can be seen in different historical periods. In recent decades, social networking websites have become an increasingly popular means of communication. Taking this fact into consideration, participants in social movements have started using social platforms to organize their activities.
Moreover, the leaders of these campaigns have realized the value of social networks in initiating different movements and inviting new activists to join them. Facebook belongs to the list of the most popular social platforms. Because it involves a huge number of users, Facebook is frequently used for advertising and promotional campaigns. Many researchers have dedicated their studies to investigating the issue of whether Facebook should or should not be regarded as an appropriate platform for social justice. While some authors believe that Facebook can perform the function of a social justice platform (Copley; Harlow 1−2; Mercea 1306; Siegman), others consider it an inefficient method for organizing social movements (MacLellan; Weinstein 210).
Many scholarly papers are dedicated to analyzing the connection between social networks and social movements. Glasius and Pleyers focus on approaches to propagating democracy, social justice, and dignity with the help of social platforms (547). The authors define dignity as something universal and personal, “a demand from one’s own state” (Glasius and Pleyers 561). Kidd and McIntosh investigate ways to promote social activism with the help of social media (785). The authors believe that modern revolutionary movements are bound to incorporate social media (Kidd and McIntosh 793).
Other sources concentrate on narrower issues, such as Facebook’s role in social groups’ activities. When discussing the power of Facebook in organizing social movements, Pavan emphasizes the integrative power of online networks (442). The findings of the study by Dimond et al. are concerned with people’s experiences of harassment and how sharing on Facebook helped them to overcome their problems (482−483). Mercea remarks that Facebook gives people and groups the power to coordinate autonomously (1321).
Harlow analyzes the spread of the justice movement with the help of Facebook (1). An important finding of this article is the suggestion of new thematic frames (reflective and agency) for the investigation of future online movements (Harlow 15). Siegman investigates the role of Facebook in the formation of the attitude of Millennials toward social justice. The author notes Millennials’ growing tendency toward willingness to participate in social justice movements on Facebook (Siegman).
There are also studies whose authors view Facebook as a way of achieving better access to social justice. In their article, Asad and Le Dantec examine the impact of information and computer technologies on the development of social activity as well as the support that these technologies provide to activists (1694). Research by Robertson focuses on the idea that because it provides great possibilities for communication, Facebook may help to democratize legal data and give more people access to justice (75).
While the majority of scholars consider Facebook’s contribution to social movements to be positive, others alternatively express the opinion that the social network’s impact is not entirely beneficial. Weinstein argues that Facebook is not capable of spurring considerable changes in social life (210). Copley and Tobin are convinced that Facebook is more a media organization than a social platform. These scholars agree that the social network has substantial power, but they consider this power to be more destructive than helpful.
Taking into consideration the large number of studies analyzing the role of Facebook in the establishment and development of social movements, it is necessary to examine each aspect separately. This literature review is aimed at analyzing the views of different scholars regarding whether Facebook may be considered a platform for social justice.
The Relationship between Social Networks and Social Movements
In an attempt to answer the question about social media’s ability to make a social movement successful, Kidd and McIntosh divide the opinions regarding this issue into three “camps”: optimistic, pessimistic, and ambivalent (785). According to the authors, those who belong to the first camp argue that revolutionary ideas can be shared with the help of social networks and that such ideas have already been promoted in this way. Pessimists consider networks like Facebook ineffective for fomenting a revolution. Moreover, they think that social media may present obstacles to beneficial social change (Kidd and McIntosh 785).
Those who take an ambivalent approach find it necessary to evaluate the balance of the evidence and only then assess how effective a role media may play. This group of people finds change possible, even though it may be difficult. Kidd and McIntosh identify flaws in techno-optimism and techno-pessimism and conclude that techno-balance is the most effective approach (792). The findings of the article suggest that the connection between social networks and social movements is rather close, and it is going to become even closer in the future.
Mobilizing Movements with the Help of Facebook
Out of the vast number of social network systems, Facebook is considered by many scholars to be the most influential. People not only regularly use Facebook for social connections but also read the news there and use the platform as a powerful tool (Siegman). Moreover, Millennials’ constant engagement in social networking is considered to be a mechanism for sharing opinions about social justice (Siegman). Facebook is a tool for organizing social change, and activists employ it to promote their ideas and invite more followers.
Harlow’s study focuses on Facebook’s role in helping a movement to change its status from online to offline (1). With the aid of content analysis, the author examines Facebook comments associated with the events of 2009 in Guatemala. As Harlow notes, Facebook played a significant role in the initiation of the Guatemalan Justice Movement (1). According to the author, users’ comments that were of a protesting and motivational nature assisted in organizing a number of protests in the country. In addition to comments, people used links and other features to promote their ideas of justice (Harlow 2).
However, what started as an online campaign soon went beyond the network and resulted in a physical protest offline. Through a variety of Facebook pages, the forces of protest grew stronger, and on May 17, 2009, as many as 50,000 people gathered for a massive protest (Harlow 2). Thus, the Guatemalan Justice Movement is an example of Facebook’s power to initiate not only seemingly silent online movements but even physical offline events.
Another example of Facebook’s promotional role in the social community is analyzed in an article by Dimond et al., focusing on the activity of Hollaback, a social organization whose major aim is to put an end to street harassment (477). The authors investigate the role of storytelling techniques in the context of organizing social campaigns (Dimond et al. 477). Dimond et al. conclude that sharing one’s negative experience in the form of a story has several beneficial features (485−488). The people who write these stories feel greater relief and support after sharing them, while those who read them can find out about the typical behavior of attackers and learn how to avoid becoming a victim. Thus, the authors find that social networks such as Facebook fulfill an important function in organizing large masses of people.
In their article, Asad and Le Dantec also analyze how information and communication technologies promote community involvement and support access to justice (1694). The authors argue that social networks support such significant information practices as codification, situating, and scaffolding. Each of these practices, according to Asad and Le Dantec, can help to promote civic engagement (1697). Situating is defined as the process of disclosing acute issues and informing people about their potential consequences. Facebook plays a role in this process in that it helps share information with a large number of people (Asad and Le Dantec 1697).
Codification constitutes the act of translating one issue to support various aims within the organization. This practice concerns methods used by group members to arrange their means of communication. Also, codification is responsible for making sure that necessary data reach the intended audience (Asad and Le Dantec 1699). Scaffolding is used for putting knowledge into use with the aim of obtaining supplementary support from community members and justice groups (Asad and Le Dantec 1699−1700). Situating, codification, and scaffolding are interconnected and help to provide people with more advantageous options involving justice.
Facebook as a Means of Obtaining Better Access to Justice
While Facebook is a highly effective means of sharing information and mobilizing people, it has another significant feature: giving people better access to justice. In her research, Robertson argues that there are two principal reasons why social networks bring justice closer to people (75). The first aspect that the author discusses is that Facebook has the ability to disrupt the usual practice of law by providing litigants more data about their legal rights. This popular social network also enables better connectivity with lawyers who may be operating at different levels and increases the possibility of obtaining relevant data about the case (Robertson 78).
The second aspect, as defined by Robertson, is that Facebook empowers people to defend their rights and opportunities (75). The author argues that litigants are more likely than lawyers to initiate change, and Facebook’s role in this trend is crucial. The author explains her view by observing that while litigants do not always have unproblematic access to “legal representation,” they may easily obtain internet access (Robertson 80). The effectiveness of this activity is possible due to Facebook being the most-visited social network. According to Robertson, social networking provides exceptional possibilities for communication and connectivity (75). As a result of obtaining legal data, people will have better access to justice. Thus, it becomes possible for people to gain justice in more than one way, and Facebook’s role in this process is significant.
Doubting Facebook’s Mobilizing Effectiveness
While the majority of scholars consider Facebook’s social power to be significant, some articles are dedicated to the issue of the great disparity between physical and online movements. In her study, Weinstein focuses on the differences between online and offline civic expression (210). Although the author notes some similarities between these two forms of expression, she is convinced that online movements do not have sufficient power to organize physical movements and create change. Weinstein differentiates between three types of expression patterns: bounded, blended, and differentiated (215). People who blend are willing to share their civic beliefs online. Those who bound avoid expressing their offline views in online settings, thus creating boundaries.
People who differentiate have different modes of civic expression on various online platforms. They may bound on one platform and blend on another. Moreover, they may choose to what extent they share their views on different social networks (Weinstein 215−216). The author also analyzes the reasons why people may avoid expressing their opinions online. Weinstein mentions that while offline expression may cause problems related to social relationships, online expression may present challenges that are no less crucial (Weinstein 213−214).
According to Weinstein, people may be afraid to express their views online because too many people have access to the information (213). An individual may change an opinion, but it is difficult to change the things the individual has posted or reposted. That is why some people are cautious about online civic expression (Weinstein 214). As a result, it cannot be considered the most reliable social justice platform.
In her article, MacLellan expresses doubt about Facebook’s success as a social platform. The author points to the fact that online petitions and hashtags cannot bring about real change and cannot compete with offline activity (MacLellan). According to political science professor Hahrie Han, modern social movements have a transactional rather than transformative form of organization, which takes away from their ability to make a real change (MacLellan). While transformative efforts deepen people’s engagement, transactional actions merely ask participants to perform some tasks. Examples of transactional efforts include signing a petition, donating funds, and writing letters. Transformative actions encourage people to organize real-life events and take an active part in them (MacLellan). Therefore, Facebook is not considered the most effective social platform by some authors.
The need for social justice encourages people to resort to a variety of methods that may help them prove their point. One of the most effective approaches to organizing social justice movements, sharing information about them, and inviting new members is the use of social network systems. Facebook is a leading social website used by the leaders and participants of justice campaigns. Some scholars express doubts about the mobilizing power of Facebook and consider it a media company rather than a social platform (MacLellan; Tobin; Weinstein 210). Others believe that it brings many benefits to social activists. The large number of studies dedicated to Facebook’s function in social movements is a testimony to the significance of the issue. As a result of this literature review, it is possible to conclude that Facebook is an appropriate platform for social justice.
Asad, Mariam, and Christopher A. Le Dantec. “Illegitimate Civic Participation: Supporting Community Activists on the Ground.” Proceedings of the 18th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing, 2015, pp. 1694-1703.
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Dimond, Jill P. et al. “Hollaback!: The Role of Collective Storytelling Online in a Social Movement Organization.” Proceedings of the 13th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative, 2013, pp. 477-490.
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