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Studies show that social media is harder for people to resist than smoking or drinking alcohol.  In fact, 79% of people in Canada do not leave their homes without their smartphones. I am not too proud to admit that I am within that 79% of people. In fact, when I even think I might have left my iPhone at home, I feel anxious and stressed, much like a person going through nicotine withdrawal.

With so many people using smartphones so much of the time, it’s a wonder we get anything done, much less things that make a difference for the good of the world. I’m going to let you in on a little secret, since we’re becoming friends now and all: my dream would be to quit school and save the sharks with United Conservationists, or join Greenpeace and save the planet. Sadly, my dreams are a tad unrealistic at this point in my life. I bet you’re wondering where I’m going with this, huh?

What’s This All About Then?

Okay, so we have all these people who admit to a) owning a smartphone and b) having an addiction to using their smartphones, so how can we put a positive spin on this epidemic?  Two simple words, my friends: online activism.

Let’s be honest for a minute here. When you’re sitting in the lecture hall waiting for your professor to start lecturing, or you’re waiting for your friends to show up, or you’re sitting on the bus trying to avoid your overly friendly seat-mate with the bad breath, what are you to do other than pull out your smartphone?

Jump on the Social Media Bandwagon and Click Your Support!

If you’re anything like me, you probably like to check in on Facebook or Twitter on your smartphone. If you’re really like me, you do this several times throughout the day, whether you have something better (read: more important) to do or not. Why not do some good while you’re at it? Social media is opening the doors for us to make a difference and empowering us to start a conversation with other people about things that matter. 

Twitter

There are so many ways to use Twitter for good, it’s not even funny. And I should know; I follow some pretty funny people on Twitter. I also follow organizations and celebrities that use Twitter to spread awareness and pass around online petitions.  Getting involved has never been so easy!  In a matter of minutes you can tweet not only about the most recent episode of Game of Thrones (you need to leave right now and go watch that show if you haven’t before, by the way), but you can also retweet information to spread awareness. You can easily pass along messages to your friends by retweeting, and then connect to other “Twitterers” or “tweeps” by using hash tags. If you feel really motivated to make a change, you can even tweet your government representatives. You know, just be tactful and professional while doing so.

Facebook

Over 500 million people use Facebook, half of whom log on daily.  We don’t have to only use Facebook for updating our relationship statuses or photo-stalking people we went to high school with, there are lots of ways to do good. Some ways to use Facebook for good include adding Causes to your profile and joining like-minded Groups

Personally, my favourite things to bombard people with (other than photos of my cat) are  statuses that help to spread awareness that include news articles, petitions, and links to more information to help my favourite causes.  Another great use for Facebook is the Events function, which is good for more than just throwing stag and doe parties. For example, United Conservationists throw fundraisers occasionally for the Fin Free campaign, and will often set up Facebook Events to invite people from all over.

I think we all remember the week that the Kony 2012 video went viral. In a very short period of time, people all over Facebook were sharing the video, telling their friends and pledging to spread awareness further. On Twitter, feeds were overrun with Kony 2012 hash tags. Now, I will not spend a great deal of time ranting about this cause since I felt a little cynical about all these sudden overnight activists, but I must admit that there were good things that came out of the video going viral. Some people decided to do their research to find out more about the charity involved, as well as the issue at stake, and really, arguably the most important factor, awareness, was spread. Whether you’re a critic or a fan of the cause, you have to admit that without social media, far less people would have access to the kind of information we now have access to.

I’ve only covered two social networking sites in particular, but there are many other options for people to use social media for good.

Speaking of Awareness…

The best way to do good is to be educated on what’s going on around the world. Only by educating yourself can you spread awareness. News technology has dramatically evolved over the years; we used to get most of our information from newspapers and TV.  And by “we” I don’t mean “me”; I never read newspapers in my youth (never-you-mind how old I am, thank you very much), unless you count the comics.

Nowadays, I get most of my information from online news sources or through my smartphone’s news apps. I know I’m not alone in this either; people just prefer the ease and convenience that the internet provides. I also follow different news channels on Twitter, so if there is breaking news, I can read about it right away. Maybe if technology was this advanced when I was younger, I would have been more involved and interested in what was going on in the world around me. The novelties of gaining information online are endless, and youth today can be more educated in a variety of causes as they (we) never were before.

What if You Have Money To Burn?

Okay, I can’t speak from experience here, I’m just a starving student, but if you have money to burn and you’re not satisfied with bugging people to sign petitions, there’s always the option to text-to-donate. I remember when Haiti was hit by that massive earthquake in 2010; text-to-donate was a very popular option. You get the satisfaction of giving to a good cause from the convenience of your phone! Heck, you could donate from the comfort of your couch.

So How Does Online Political Activism Even Work?

A lot of people don’t think signing petitions and spreading awareness online is beneficial, but it’s really all about the numbers.  It all starts with an organization coming together and starting a website, whether it be about abortion laws, war, or even shark-fin bans to spread information. In fact, you don’t even need to be part of an organization to spread awareness anymore, that’s the benefit of social media. Just one person can make a difference, giving people access to information from all over the world. People who get information can start to take action. When members of the government start receiving emails, letters, and even tweets from people, they will start to take notice.

Not only is online activism more accessible for people, but it’s more cost-effective.  Like I said, I would love to be an activist full-time, but it’s just not in the cards right now. I simply don’t have the time to gather people to form protest groups, nor do I have the money. What I do have time for is a quick status update or tweet, or online petition to sign. An email to the government takes a mere five minutes, and as we know, “even the smallest person can change the course of the future” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings).

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