Liam Thompson ’24

The pandemic has changed the way we communicate with one another on a local, national, and even global scale. The rate in which technology and social media in particular command huge portions of our attention has only accelerated through the process. An article published by Forbes claimed that the average American spent 1,300 hours on social media in the past year. This means that Americans spent nearly 15 percent of their year on these various apps.

Though being distanced from one another may have contributed to this startling number, the power and grasp that social media has over our attention is undeniable. Therefore, these platforms are great places to spread messages and information to larger audiences with greater immediacy than ever before. We have the capability to reach thousands, or even millions of people at our fingertips.

This phenomenon presents an opportunity to create conversation and change which required much more effort in the past. Social media affords us the convenience of quickly gaining momentum in advocating for issues we believe in in a variety of ways. To pass up on the opportunity to take advantage of the social platforms which have as much power as they do over our lives is to miss out on a lucrative way to incite change.

This semester I have studied the effects of Donald Glover, or “Childish Gambino’s,” “This is America” music video on conversations regarding a variety of social and political issues he aims to address. The effectiveness and reach of the piece are undeniable: its 800 million views on YouTube clearly prove that people have been taking notice of Gambino’s message.

In the aftermath of its release, countless scholarly reviews were published, and tweets were sent as people recognized the relevancy of Glover’s points on racism, gun violence, and other issues. The carefully planned shots of the video and lyrics of the song shocked America and prompted conversations in many different circles and contexts. Glover was not the first to use protest music or a music video to create awareness, but the effect of “This is America” in terms of bringing its issues to the forefront of culture is obvious.

Now, I know we don’t all have millions of devoted followers like Gambino. But that doesn’t mean that our voices are without power on the internet. A prime example of Wabash students using their voices to start conversation and incite change can be seen in the “WE, the Students of Wabash College…” video, produced last Spring semester by our student government.

The video, organized by various organizations including the Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies, ‘shOUT, the International Students Association, and the Sphinx Club received over 4,500 views and nearly 300 engagements on Twitter, along with over 1,500 YouTube views. The call to action of the administration was viewed and discussed far beyond the bounds of our campus as the message from the student body was made clear.

Though traditional forms of advocacy such as protests have known benefits and strengths, digital advocacy such as Gambino’s video and the “WE, the Students of Wabash College…” video offer a new set of advantages. In producing digital advocacy, we can clearly communicate and identify the issues we have problems with, and the changes we wish to see made. Social media allows for us to take a more calculated and strategic approach to advocacy in promoting understanding and pressing for change.

Additionally, digital advocacy allows us to reach larger audiences in an easier manner than traditional advocacy often requires. The capability for virality which exists on social platforms gives posts the potential to be seen by people who may have never been exposed to them if they had not appeared in their feed for one reason or another. If the goal is to publicize and gain awareness for an issue or opinion, social media may be the best bet.

Going forward, it seems as though we are moving to an even heavier dependence on technology; it doesn’t look like social media is going anywhere. In fighting for change for the causes we believe in, we need to adapt and continue to take advantage of the audiences and capabilities that digital advocacy presents.

Additionally, we should be exceedingly conscious of the efforts of others in terms of what we consume on social media and the causes they aim to support. In my own use of social media, I am going to try to be more aware of the true implications of the digital advocacy I come across and have real-life conversations about the issues they aim to address.