Online activism

BLACKSBURG, Va., April 2 — ONLINE DONATION: Rachel Malloy, senior mechanical engineering major at Virginia Tech, prepares to click on the donation button for a contribution toward Noshin Abedin’s UNICEF fundraiser. Photograph: Aly De Angelus

by Aly De Angelus —

First came poodle skirts and bomber jackets. Then came scrunchies and no-tie sneakers. The question is, does the new generation define coolness as more than a commodification of objects, but rather of goodness and activism?

The answer may not be as clear as you think.

2018 has been a rigorous year for protesters and Parkland shooting survivors Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg have taken the political arena by storm. The Atlantic for example even goes as far to say that these kids are model children that just happen to service the general public as advocates for gun reform. Is it fair to say that Gonzalez and Hogg are cool when their activism might only resonate with the political orientation of liberals?

William Taggart is an instructor for the department of modern and classical languages and literature at Virginia Tech. In 2000 Haggart conducted research about online activism and the phenomenon of hacktivism at the start of the millennium.

“I think social media has changed the way people think about politics,” Haggart said. “I kind of think in this country we are almost descending into this sort of tribalism, at least along some political lines  … so activism for whom and by whom is part of the question.”

Since March 2017 social media has aided the role of fundraising on a digital platform. According to The Guardian, an influx of cash toward charitable causes is most likely traced back to the influence of big businesses and their manipulation of current cultural trends. But is that what this is for the younger generation – Is activism merely a trend for happening Instagram photos and buzzworthy tweets that will inevitably fade over time?

Noshin Abedin, a sophomore environmental horticulture major at Virginia Tech, doesn’t think so. Abedin argues that online activism is what has allowed introverts to find their voice and stake a case in a particular movement without all of the hustle and bustle that may turn other potential supporters away.

“I feel like social media makes it easier to be more of a social activist,” Abedin said. “I can’t really do that so easily as a person on my own. I am not a big fan of pushing people like, ‘Hey, donate to me.'”

Abedin is just one in a sea of social media users that have decided to opt out of birthday gifts in exchange for donations to a non-profit organization.

Abedin’s family comes from Bangladesh, a third world country that often struggles with high poverty rates and little introduction to good hygiene practices. She hopes that her contributions to UNICEF will provide the resources needed before activism can even become a possibility.

With Nike’s equality commercial, and Starbuck’s employment pledge to hire refugees, there is no debate that business approval is skyrocketing. Are activists, on the other hand, using their platforms efficiently?

“I think a lot of people get involved in activism that is fashionable but it’s not clear that real gains can be made,” Taggart said. “To what extent can real gains be made on national issues standing down on the corner across from Moes?”

At the end of the day, will this concept of coolness cloud judgment to the brink of political collapse?

And worse, when the door to activism closes, will we be left with no choice but to return to a closet full of meaningless merchandise?

For more information on activism in 2018, check out the infographic below.

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