Is Social Media A Genuine Form of Activism? Lillian Race February 24, 2021 Community, Creativity, Interview, MESSFashion, Society, Stories, Sustainablefashion, Women This article is one of two that investigates how to use social media to necessitate change. We have been speaking to those within the sustainability community about how we can use our voice to produce meaningful action and positive change. Over the past decade, we have witnessed the rise of social media activism as a millennial and Gen Z approach to effecting change. Through social media, individuals and marginalised groups that are too often not listened to have been given the opportunity to open discussions, raise awareness, authentically speak about their experiences and receive empathy and appropriate support. With millions of resources, hashtags, campaigns, IG lives, images and information spread through social media and “wokeness” as the new cultural trend, it has never been easier to educate yourself. Without a doubt, social media can be a force for good. Social media is invaluable in amplifying the voices of marginalised groups and in circulating important resources to inform the masses. But does social media necessitate real, genuine change, or does it merely further depart us from real-life action? I do not believe social media’s effectiveness is a debate that can be objectively settled. Through these conversations, we hear from some of the individuals who are using their social media for good through no other desire than to educate and raise awareness on topics surrounding social and environmental justice and sustainability. We explore how effective they believe social media really is, how to mobilise social media activism. Read on for vital tips and tricks for those who want to utilise their voice through social media account, but may not know how to. Erin “Fair Fashion Project has become a wonderful and supportive space in a little corner of the internet.” Image @fairfashionproject Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what pushed you to utilise your social media (@fairfashionproject) to promote a social and environmental discussion? “I felt there was a genuine need for informative content which was easily digestible” Yes, of course! My name is Erin O’Brien, I’m 27 and currently based in South-West London. I started FFP back in June 2020 after I’d completed my university degree. I’d focused my dissertation on inclusivity in ethical fashion and after months of researching, I simply wanted to learn more! Before I launched my page, I spoke to friends and family about my plans and even in the early stages, I felt that there was a genuine need for informative content which was easily digestible. Fair Fashion Project has become a wonderful and supportive space in a little corner of the internet, and I feel so inspired by the incredible community I’ve found myself in. There is a large cultural problem around performative digital activism in contrast to genuine digital activism regarding social movements. Do you think digital activism as a platform in and of itself can enact positive change? Or should one’s activism always go beyond social media? “I think true activism on social media happens when your presence online aligns with your commitment to a cause in your day-to-day life.” I believe social media can be a powerful tool to ignite positive change and it can definitely be a catalyst for further education. Raising awareness on social media is definitely important when we are thinking about activism, but I think true activism on social media happens when your presence online aligns with your commitment to a cause in your day-to-day life. However, I think it’s very personal to the individual. Many people might not feel comfortable using social media as a loudspeaker while others might find going to a protest extremely overwhelming. There are many successful ways to be an activist, so I think it’s important to find a platform you are comfortable with! Could you name any digital activists that have inspired you to engage with social media for activism? If I think back to when I started FFP, I didn’t realise the fashion sustainability community had such a strong social media presence and I was so surprised to find so many like-minded people online. During my research, I’d read books by Safia Minney, Dana Thomas and Elizabeth Cline and listened to podcasts with Aja Barber, Venetia La Manna and Livia Firth – all inspirational women voicing their impeccable knowledge and curating their social space. In terms of digital activists who I find engaging are Joycelyn Longdon (@climateincolour), Mikaela Loach (@mikaelaloach) and the incredible team behind Atmos Magazine (@atmos). Social media can often feel saturated with information and I really appreciate their work in tackling the huge umbrella of climate justice and educating the masses on everything that falls underneath it. Images @fairfashionproject You can find them on Instagram @fairfashionproject Gaia “I realised that the kind of content I now create is what people enjoy the most because our attention span has greatly decreased and people read less and less. Short, concise and attractive graphics are what works best.” Image @ssustainbly_ Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what pushed you to utilise your social media (@ssustainably_) to promote sustainability and conscious consumerism? I’m an 18-year-old Italian girl currently studying a BSc in environmental management and sustainability in Leeds, UK. I’m currently in my first year and I’ve always been interested in sustainability and I have always loved fashion as a great way to express myself. I couldn’t really embrace a unique style with fast fashion as everyone is always wearing the same things. As I learnt about the impacts on people and the environment, I knew I couldn’t support such an exploitative industry, so now I basically only shop secondhand and I love it. I realised that a lot of people were unaware of the impacts of the industry so I decided to share what I was learning (through personal research) and that’s why in November 2019 I started my account, to raise awareness but also to provide tips and suggestions for people to become more conscious consumers. Your IG is full of educational graphics packed with free, incredible resources which must take dedication and a lot of research. What inspired this style of content? I realised that the kind of content I now create is what people enjoy the most because our attention span has greatly decreased and people read less and less. Short, concise and attractive graphics are what works best. I know that people can learn something from my carousels and that’s my mission, to get some information across! It does take a lot of research but I really enjoy it! Images @ssustainbly_ What is your relationship to social media in promoting sustainability? Has utilising social media in this way been a good or bad experience for you? I have found social media to be overwhelming at times especially as my followers increased, I’ve received some hate and some criticism which I’ve learnt how to deal with. I’ve also been struggling with valuing my work and asking people to compensate me. It is hard because my followers don’t see the value of my work and are not willing to pay for extra information/help. I do think, however, it is a great space as I’ve met like-minded people and created a community of passionate people who are trying their best to be conscious consumers. You can find them on Instagram @ssustainably_ Elizabeth “Awareness is the first step to change. People need to know what is happening in this world.” Image @zerowastecutie How effective do you believe social media activism is in enacting positive environmental change? Online activism can be very effective if used with the right intentions, many non-profit organizations and activists use social media to amplify their message to millions of people, especially during the pandemic when so many are staying home to stay safe. Awareness is the first step to change. People need to know what is happening in this world. For example, #blacklivesmatter helped amplify the messages of activists protesting on the ground and the organizations fighting for change on a systematic level. More people are amplifying the messages of people of color, who are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and are often silenced in the environmental movement. I’ve seen a lot more major organizations finally highlight the work of POC environmentalists who have been doing the work for many years. Another hashtag that has helped raise awareness is #plasticfreejuly on our overaccumulation and production of waste. Could you explain how you use social media to promote what is important to you? Most of my work looks at the intersection between the environment and human rights and racial justice issues. I pull some concepts from what I was taught at the University of Toronto, one of my most memorable courses being on Environmental Justice. I get a lot of my information from studies, news outlets and environmental organizations. After gathering all this information and organizing it I use Canva to create the infographics and upload them to Instagram. The whole process takes a few hours to put together but it is definitely worth it. Images @zerowastecutie You can find them on Instagram @zerowastecutie This article is part of our sustainable series; ‘those who prioritise the planet’, a series of articles spotlighting inspiring individuals, brands and platforms, all promoting and fighting for environmental and social justice. No voice is too small. Through these conversations, I hope that it incites hope to see that through our collective effort, we can work towards a more optimistic future for the fashion industry and justice for the environment.