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Social media spurs a new form of activism

Senior Mallory Marrs does the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in front of the school. This was not the picture referenced in the first paragraph.
Senior Mallory Marrs does the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in front of the school. This was not the picture referenced in the first paragraph.

She had just completed the ALS  (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) Ice Bucket Challenge, where participants either douse themselves in ice water or donate to the ALS Association. Activism for a particular cause through social media has become the newest way for charities and organizations to market themselves.

The ALS Association is one such charity that has used social media activism to its benefit by raising $94.3 million (at the time of publication date), according to its website, as well as increasing awareness of the disease.

Because of her connections with ALS, Marrs has kept track of the ALS Challenge’s progress over the past month.

“It’s not a well known disease so I’m proud of (the challenge) because people are starting to notice (it). The ALS association is raising so much money, and that’s just the most exciting part to me because it’s getting attention and people are getting a grasp on what it is,” she said.

Although the ALS Challenge has been one of the most popular forms of social media activism, other movements ranging from awareness of sex trafficking to racial equality have also been circulating the feeds of Twitter, Instagram, Vine and Facebook.

Marrs credits the effectiveness of this type of activism to its simple nature. Compared to other types of promotions, she believes that social media provides an easier platform for organizations like the ALS Association to spread their message.

“It gets around so easily, (and) there’s so much social media to use. It’s easier to spread than putting up a poster or writing a letter. Like, how easy is it to retweet someone or share someone’s post on Facebook?” she said. “It’s easy to tweet, it’s easy to text, (and) you’re probably going to do it that day anyway, (so you) might as well make it charitable. If you want to say something, or if you want to promote a cause, you are one tweet or post away from doing it.”

Junior Raelyn O’Dell searches Twitter for #YesAllWomen.
Junior Raelyn O’Dell searches Twitter for #YesAllWomen.

Junior Raelyn O’Dell participates in the #yesallwomen movement, a campaign that advocates for the end to women’s inequality and harassment. Although O’Dell promotes a different campaign from Marrs, O’Dell also finds that the easy nature of social media provides a successful platform for activism.

“People would talk about it on social media and then if you see it so much, it becomes just part of your daily routine. And seeing people talk about feminism so much, that’s a great thing, that’s really good,” she said.

Once a movement has gained popularity, its next objective is to keep that following growing. Social media possesses certain assets for a campaign to gain momentum and gather more supporters. For example, a post originally intended for 100 people can be shared, retweeted or copied for hundreds of additional people to watch.

Cindy Wise, Executive Director of the ALS Association Indiana Chapter, said she believes momentum was imperative to the progress of the Ice Bucket Challenge as well as any other campaign. Wise said what started as a small idea became a major movement only because of how quickly it reached a wide audience.

“(When I first saw the challenge) I was just overwhelmed that someone started this. I think that when I first saw it I thought, ‘Oh, what a great idea, something fun,’ because there’s nothing fun about ALS, and it just took off,” she said. “I think the longer it’s alive, it reaches more people. (The ALS Association) talks about it; we share where it’s at as far as the dollars raised, the wonderful people throughout the country, both celebrities and just individuals, who are doing it. This effort has not only brought awareness and education, but it has brought the needed funds for the ALS Association.”

The ALS Challenge has certainly found this momentum by accepting money from 739,000 new donors in the past month, according to its website.

From Marrs’s experience with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, she agreed that once a movement is posted, social media allows that post to travel quickly.

“(The challenge) started off small, but when you nominate three people and then those three people do it, and then it becomes 30 people, and this usually happens in 24 hours or less,” she said. “I feel like people get to see people’s reactions to it, and then you can see how everyone else is doing it and how it connects. It’s kind of a domino effect, because if one person does it, then the next person does it. I think people are seeing their friends do it, and (they’re) like, ‘Oh, that looks like fun,’ but they don’t know there’s a bigger message and support behind what’s actually happening.”

O’Dell has seen this momentum in the women’s rights movement as well. She said the rise of social media activism has allowed #yesallwomen to grow at CHS.

“Just today I was in the second-floor E rooms, and I heard some girls at their locker talking about it, and it was refreshing, almost, because I used to not hear much about that at all,” O’Dell said. “I was kind of considered in the minority, I guess, considering myself a feminist, but now I hear it a lot more. People in class will say sexist things, and it’s not just me speaking up, it’s other people being like, ‘That’s not okay.’”

The fact that social media can connect users to people they don’t even know only adds to this momentum. In Marrs’s case, she saw the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge from a celebrity’s Instagram post.

She said, “The first time I saw it on social media, a celebrity did it, and (the caption) said ‘ALS Bucket Challenge,’ so I googled it to make sure it was the same disease we were talking about. It was just a celebrity off of ‘Pretty Little Liars’ that did it, so I was like, ‘That’s really cool,’ and then I was secretly hoping someone would nominate me so I could do it.”

Unlike an average user, celebrities can post to hundreds of thousands of fans. So when Bill Gates, Taylor Swift and Oprah Winfrey posted #ALSIceBucketChallenge, the momentum of their posts was sent to more than 30 million followers.

The fact that social media is already used for educational purposes also aids its effectiveness at advocating a cause. According to Wise, users have grown accustomed to learning about a certain charity or organization through social media.

“What’s always been the challenge for the ALS Association is to really educate people and bring up the awareness of the disease because basically most people haven’t ever heard of it, so the Ice Bucket Challenge at least helped people understand what ALS is,” she said.

O’Dell said a major goal of the #yesallwomen campaign is simply to educate users on feminism. Accordingly, her personal goal is to show feminism’s true meaning through her tweets and posts.

“Through social media and through the internet, a lot of people are becoming more educated on the feminist movement. It’s not such a taboo word anymore, where it used to be you would hear the word ‘feminist,’ and you would think of some crazy radical, but now, it’s becoming more normal,” she said.

Marrs also sees that social media activism can inform her peers and correct misguided ideas about a particular cause.

(First from left): Senior Mallory Marrs poses with her uncle, who was diagnosed with ALS. She said, "The one thing I hold close to my heart, (social media activism) is causing other people to hold closer to their hearts.”
(First from left): Senior Mallory Marrs poses with her uncle, who was diagnosed with ALS. She said, “The one thing I hold close to my heart, (social media activism) is causing other people to hold closer to their hearts.”

“I got tired of people being like, ‘Oh, (the challenge) is just for fun,’ or seeing a girl on Twitter put some description about ALS (that) wasn’t even correct, so that was frustrating. But ‘Sports Center’ made this really good package on it and people actually got the message and if my friends did the video they would be like, ‘This is for Mallory’s uncle who passed away,’ so that made me really happy,” Marrs said. “Before (the challenge) I would say, ‘My uncle passed away from it, and most people would be like, ‘Well, what is it?’ and then you (tell) them Lou Gehrig’s disease, which is what it’s based off of, and then you have to explain it from there. It’s nice now because if I’m like, ‘My uncle had ALS,’ I don’t have to explain.”

Because social media is a broader platform than most education programs, it is effective at giving more attention to little known organizations like the ALS Association. Wise is most proud of the challenge for achieving coverage of such a previously unrecognized disease as ALS. Before the challenge, she said the Indiana community wasn’t well accustomed to the disease. In comparison, Wise has seen a vast difference in how the public receives ALS after the challenge gained popularity.

“We have never had so many people sign up to be a part of our walk or to donate or to offer to volunteer to provide services to families. It’s just woken the community up to the need (ALS has). ALS is a devastating disease, and the people that are battling this disease not only need people that understand it, but they need help. This is a very debilitating disease and it devastates an entire family,” she said.

On a national outlook, donation levels from before and after the challenge prove the movement’s success at bringing awareness to a previously invisible cause. According to its website, the ALS Association has received $91.6 million more from July 29 to Aug. 27 of this year compared to that same time period last year. In other words, the organization has seen almost a 3,500 percent spike in donations.

Marrs said she also credits social media activism for allowing unpopular topics to have a chance in the spotlight.

“That’s just the most exciting part to me because (ALS is) getting attention. It should get more attention,” Marrs said. “There are a lot of diseases that should get more attention. There’s a lot of (advocacy for) cancer but then you hear about something else, and it’s nice to hear something else get a little more attention and support from the community. The one thing I hold close to my heart, (social media activism) is causing other people to hold closer to their hearts.”

Ultimately, O’Dell said she finds social media activism is most effective not just at promoting a topic, but also at promoting a public’s future.

“I do believe social media will continue to push women’s equality forward. Through social media and Facebook shares and people reposting on Instagram, people will become more aware of the inequality that women face in modern society and a lot of people upon being exposed to that will create their own opinions on things that they never really had opinions about before,” she said. “I know it sounds cheesy and stereotypical but we are the future. We’re going to grow up to be the people who are in positions of power and who have the opportunity to change views in society.”

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