REPORT: How to Leverage Social Media Moments Into Offline Movements

By Kenrya Rankin Aug 14, 2015

From #YouOKSis to #QueridaKellyOsbourne, hashtags are helping to advance political ideas and support real-world social justice movements. But a new report says that those movements will never have maximum impact if activists don’t marry what they do online with the offline fight to gain universal Internet access for people of color.

Created by the Center for Media Justice, and Data & Society, “The Digital Culture Shift: From Scale to Power” tapped the minds and work of 22 progressive advocates, half of whom are people of color. Researchers used the qualitative data they gathered to create a blueprint for using digital media to bring about social justice movements—which starts with making sure that disenfranchised people, and the groups who advocate for them, have unfettered access to digital tools.

Among the study’s findings: 

  • Many advocacy groups currently lack the capacity to use and customize digital tools, whether because of lack of skills or funding. This leads to a dependence on existing platforms, which could hurt their movements if corporations were to restrict their access.
  • Advocacy groups care about digital rights and access, but admit that they feel secondary to the targeted issues they organize around. They also need more education around the issue of net neutrality and how losing it could impact their social justice work.
  • Groups are concerned about digital security at the organizing level, but aren’t sure how it impacts their members’ lives. They often assume they are being watched, but think more secure protocols would slow down their work. Instead, they opt to make their organizations transparent. 

Key recommendations for entwining digital rights with other movements for maximum success on both fronts include:

  • Experiment with various digital strategies and document results to see—and share—what works.
  • Identify common ground between digital rights issues and broader social issues and reframe campaigns to address both. 
  • Advocate for diversity in technology within tech companies, within governments, and within the population of those being governed.
  • Push movement funders to back the creation of shared platforms that groups can use to organize without relying on corporate-backed networks.
  • Hire technologists of color to add expertise, not only when it comes to the work of data mining and reaching members, but also to tap their inherent interest in advancing the fight for digital access.

Read the full report here.