On social media and activism

by Leah Shafer
Associate Professor of Media & Society

Social media activism is good and important, but it is not, ultimately, an engine for productive dialogue. In my courses, we study the ways that social media advertising and social media recommendation algorithms work. Most social media platforms are not, as they may appear to be, democratic spaces where anyone’s voice can be heard. They are mass media engines powered by algorithms that reflect hegemonic social structures. In the cases of Facebook or YouTube, for example, they are sites that intentionally drive traffic toward inflammatory content for revenue generation.

There have, however, been some intriguing recent collective social actions in support of social justice movements by already established online communities. In many Media & Society courses, we study fan culture, fan-produced content, and fan communities. One of these communities, fans of K-pop (Korean pop music), recently mobilized to block the Dallas police department from collecting video of protesters by flooding the department’s app with K-pop videos and fan cams. The active online community also flooded hashtags like #whitelivesmatter with K-pop content, so anyone searching that hashtag would find videos of Twice or BTS instead of white supremacist content.