Ashley Smith, Kelsey Nekl, Rebecca Plumb, Ibrahim Aljahwari
Social media has proved to be a useful tool for sharing ideas and connecting people with common interests. Major social change groups and movements, such as The Human Rights campaign and Black Lives Matter, have taken to social media to spread the word, network, and educate the world about their cause. Without the use of social media, these groups may not have seen such progress or gained the enormous level of support that was received.
Omaha has a variety of groups, organizations, and communities that want to make social changes. This study compares and contrasts data collected from the Facebook pages of four separate and unique social change groups in Omaha. By analyzing the trends found in the data collected in this study and comparing them to existing sociological studies, the most effective ways of using social media outlets to accomplish social change can be discovered.
The chosen Omaha groups for study are Nebraskans for Peace (NFP,) GLSEN Omaha (GLSEN,) Omaha NORML (NORML,) and Omaha Against Hunger (OAH.) NFP is a statewide organization that focuses on peace and justice for all; GLSEN, a national organization that promotes safety in schools for all students, focuses on those that are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender; NORML is a group that focuses on legalizing medical marijuana for Nebraskans; and the final group, OAH, is a nonprofit organization that works to provide food for all people, both locally and globally.
The conclusions drawn from this study are made based on an analysis of each groups’ Facebook posts within a two-week timeframe. Each post was reviewed and broken down by post type, engagement, interest, and nature of content posted.
A Brief History of Social Media
The concept of web browsing is fairly new, having only come into fruition in roughly 1985. In turn, social media is an even newer concept that has truly caught on like wildfire. Social media’s gain in popularity possibly stems from its easy-to-use set up, and its capability to satisfy human need for instant gratification. At any given point during the day, one can log in to any forum, talk directly to friends or followers, and stay updated on those one knows personally, on an acquaintance level, or someone famous by means of other mainstream media.
In Wayne Williamson and Bruno Palotin’s article, “Web 2.0 and Social Media Growth in Planning Practice: A Longitudinal Study”, the growth and “need” for social media is tracked and recorded. In the concluding statements, it is explained that social media use has more than doubled between 2009 and 2012. To fully understand the extent of American youth’s obsession with media, American and Canadian college students to fill out a brief survey. Of the many surveys sent out, 45% were returned with a response. All reported that the person filling out the survey needed social media in their daily life. Facebook proved to be the most successful and structured means of communication bringing in 51% of the recorded responses compared to Twitter’s 38% (Williamson, Palotin).
Moreover, some studies suggest that political uses of social media have a mobilization effect among youth, as they create opportunities for individuals that otherwise would not participate (Kruikmeier, van Noort, Vliegenthart, & de Vreese, 2013).
Themes and Conclusions Drawn
Relevancy of Content Posted: Central Focus Results in Loyal Supporters
A major theme that is shared among the social movement groups is that groups with one main and clear focus tend to have more loyal group members who share content and engage online. These particular groups are NORML, GLSEN, and OAH. The fourth group, NFP has an overall goal of promoting peace in Nebraska, however the topic is so general and broad that a frequency of “subtopics” being shared can be seen. The group draws in a large amount of supporters, however due to the inconsistency of issues and content shared, not all members engage on all posts in in strong numbers.
Variety in Post Type: Repetitiveness Results in Lack of Engagement
The Facebook platform offers a small array of options for posting content (original text posts, article shares, photos and events.) The majority of the observed groups utilize all forms of post type to reach their members. Omaha Against Hunger however almost exclusively used photos only over the two-week period of observation. In addition to only using one type of post, the Omaha Against Hunger essentially used the same photo on each post (outside of minor edits.) Only one of the photo posts revealed significant support interest over the others. One can assume that a supporter could easily scroll past each photo in their Facebook feed and not realize that each post is an individual or stand alone post.
Events and Call to Action: Supporters Want to be Involved
Posts that supply information about upcoming events involving a social change group’s focus or goal are an effective way to bridge the gap between in-person activities and online engagement with the group.
With NFP and NORML, one can see a bank of posts that encourage members to reach out to local government officials as well as state senators to voice their opinions on change.
By using social media effectively, social change groups hope to see an increase in face-to-face (FtF) interaction with their supporters. In order to see an improvement in this area, a certain level of internal political efficacy (IPE) must be achieved within the supporters. Internal political efficacy is defined as the belief in an individual that the political actions they undertake will influence their political environment (Campbell, Gurin, & Miller, 1954). IPE can be explained using the concept of confidence. Supporters must feel that they are qualified to participate in politics and have the ability to create change.
The use of social media for political purposes demands the possession of certain skills, as well as the perception of the capability to effectively use those skills. In this sense, there might be individuals that believe in their capabilities to use social media for political purposes, but feel they do not have what is needed to participate in a different context (e.g., offline). Wang (2007) found that individuals that used sites such as discussion forums to express their political opinions or interacted online with public officials reported higher levels of IPE. This finding is a very broad generalization and can be applied to any of the four social change groups under examination.
Group to Supporter Engagement: Communication is Important
While the majority of groups have some sort of engagement between group and supporter, NORML consistently encourages conversation by phrasing posts in such a way that it compels supporters to engage in a conversation, whether it sides with the group or against the group. Not only does NORML display this activity in posts, the group also is active in replying to individual supporters’ comments and fostering conversation. This shows that NORML is dedicated to educating about their cause, fighting for what the group represents, and actively involved in what their supporters have to say.
Kimberly Edwards-Underwood, the author of “Record Title: #Evolution or Revolution: Exploring Social Media through Revelations of Familiarity” discovers and discusses how an almost constant stream of call to action posts can be used as a weapon. This has the potential to, and often does lead to, micro assaults. Micro assaults are “verbal” attacks that can be found in virtually any comment stream attached to a post on a social justice issue. The slight anonymity of talking online provides the user with a feeling invincibility, so the user may feel more compelled to attack another person over a differing opinion, or anything else that people might otherwise ignore in the real world. (Edwards-Underwood).
Relevancy of Cause to Present Time: Hot Issues and Controversy Fosters Strong Supporter Participation
Each group’s cause is important for different reasons, however popularity and interest may lack due to what’s happening or what may have already happened in the world. As NFP covers general topics and not a strict focus, there is room for disinterest. World hunger has always been problem, continues to be a problem and is projected to be a problem for the unforeseeable future.
The legalization of marijuana is the new current or hot issue. Legal marijuana, whether medicinal or recreational, generates a high volume of revenue for the states where it is available but the taboo that marijuana is a harmful drug is still a major topic of debate, keeping it stigmatized and creating controversy. Nebraska’s neighboring state, Colorado legalized marijuana within the last few years and as the word has spread, surrounding states are likely to be on board to legalization as well. This plays a major factor into the success of NORML’s online activism and community engagement.
The road to equality for LGBT groups is still a work in progress and new hurdles are being met over time. It’s highly likely that one could go further back in time on GLSEN’s Facebook page to find a higher volume of community engagement around the time that the Supreme Court reevaluated the 14th amendment to allow marriage between couples in the LGBT community. As this study was conducted after the the reevaluation, documents to support this hypothesis are not included in this paper.
Wang, S. I. (2007). Political use of the Internet, political attitudes and political participation. Asian Journal of Communication, 17, 381–395.
Campbell, A., Gurin, G., & Miller, W. E. (1954). The voter decides. Evanston, Ill.: Row, Peterson.
Kruikemeier, S., van Noort, G., Vliegenthart, R., & de Vreese, C. H. (2013). Unraveling the effects of active and passive forms of political Internet use: Does it affect citizens’ political involvement? New Media & Society
Hall, Ryan. “CLICK TO CHANGE: OPTIMISM DESPITE ONLINE ACTIVISM’S UNMET EXPECTATIONRe.” Emory International Law Review 26.2 (2012): 745-72. Web.
Williamson, Wayne, and Bruno Parolin. “Web 2.0 and Social Media Growth in Planning Practice: A Longitudinal Study.” Planning Practice & Research 28.5 (2013): 544-62. Web.
Edwards-Underwood, Kimberly. “Record Title: #EVOLUTION OR REVOLUTION: EXPLORING SOCIAL MEDIA THROUGH REVELATIONS OF FAMILIARITY.” Black History Bulletin 78.1 (2015): 23-28. Web.