Social Media and Feminist Activism: Are We Becoming More #Woke or Not?


By Ashvini Rae
Imagine you’re running a campaign. The campaign can be on anything, it can be local or national or even international but it’s something that you really care about. In fact, you care about it so much that you decide to organise a protest. You try and get all your friends to come along but it turns out they’re not that interested in coming – maybe it’s forecast to rain that day or they’re too busy or perhaps they just don’t care as much as you do. So instead, you switch tactics and decide to start an online petition and you post it on Facebook. Before long, your friends start to comment on the post saying they’ve signed your petition and some even decide to share the post so their friends see it.
You could look at this two ways. On the one hand, your friends weren’t interested in the protest you organised. But on the other hand, loads of them engaged with your petition and you’ve got even more signatories than you expected! Some of your signatories have even told you that they might be interested in your next protest. You realise that, by making your form of activism slightly more accessible, you’ve managed to get more people to participate in your campaign. This is the power of social media activism.
There are arguments that social media has made activism more performative. Gladwell[1], for instance, argues that “social media [is] built around weak ties” which “seldom lead to high-risk activism”. Wutz[2] is even more harsh, describing social media activism as “sitting on our butts with screens on our laps”. Even the term “slacktivism” shows how social media activism is dismissed as lazy. 
However, recent movements have shown the impact of social media, particularly for feminist activists. The anti-rape protests of 2012, for instance, showed that social media is an effective method of raising awareness of the issue of violence against women and girls. Social media was also used to organise protests and vigils across India which shows that the “weak ties” of social media can, indeed, lead to “high-risk activism”, contrary to Gladwell’s argument. It also played a key role in connecting activists and the media, which helped the protests to gain publicity and, therefore, more traction, meaning it led to “pivotal changes in public attention for the problem of gender violence in India”[3]. Chaudhuri and Fitzgerald[4] also argue that the use of social media marked a “new repertoire of protests” and let to a “horizontal, spontaneous, mass movement across interest groups”. Despite the notion that social media activism can be seen as performative or, even, shallow, the 2012 protests show that it doesn’t only lead to greater public awareness of issues like violence against women and girls but can also lead to protests. In short, they showed that social media activism can create lasting change in society.
The #MeToo movement has also shown the true power of social media. The movement started with a tweet from actor Alyssa Milano, which read “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet”. Her tweet promptly went viral, with around 2.3 million #MeToo tweets from 85 different countries in the space of about a month[5]. As of April 2019, Milano’s tweet received over 23,5000 retweets and 65,000 direct replies, though there are millions of tweets using the hashtag “MeToo”. The #MeToo movement inspired millions of women to share their personal experiences of sexual harassment and has led to what Cobb and Horeck[6] describe as “a dramatic and unprecedented cultural acknowledgement and conversation about sexual assault and harassment”. The strength of the movement lies in the sheer number of women who have participated which, in part, is due to its use of low-cost activism and weak ties. Unlike other more traditional forms of protests, all it takes to participate in the #MeToo movement is to tweet using the hashtag, rather than to, say, join a local #MeToo chapter or attend a #MeToo protest or go on a #MeToo strike. While people like Gladwell argue that social media has lowered the cost of activism, the result of this is more and more women sharing their stories, which can only be a good thing. Ultimately what the #MeToo movement shows is that social media can have a meaningful impact on society and can help women to speak out.


Social media has huge potential for anti-violence against women and girls’ movements. This is because it easily facilitates participation, which can encourage women to have their voices heard. It also lowers the cost of activism, which makes participation more accessible and, perhaps, less intimidating. Despite the argument that social media has led to “slacktivism” and has made activism lazier, both the 2012 anti-rape protests and the #MeToo movement show that social media can help to encourage engagement and that the impact of this can be incredibly meaningful and long-lasting. Maybe that’s something to consider next time you’re organising a protest!
  1.  Gladwell, M. (2010). Small Change. [Online] The New Yorker. Available at: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/10/04/small-change-malcolm-gladwell
  2. Wutz, I. (2016). Click here to save the world!. [Online] Diggit Magazine. Available at: https://www.diggitmagazine.com/articles/click-here-save-world.
  3.  Poell, T. and Rajagopalan, S. (2015). Connecting Activists and Journalists. Journalism Studies, 16(5), pp.719-733.
  4.  Chaudhuri, S. and Fitzgerald, S. (2015). Rape Protests in India and the Birth of a New Repertoire. Social Movement Studies, 14(5), pp.622-628.
  5. Fox, K. and Diehm, J. (2017). #MeToo's global moment: the anatomy of a viral campaign. [Online] CNN. Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2017/11/09/world/metoo-hashtag-global-movement/index.htm
  6. Cobb, S. and Horeck, T. (2018). Post Weinstein: gendered power and harassment in the media industries. Feminist Media Studies, 18(3), pp.489-491.




 About the Author
 Ashvini recently graduated from the University of York (UK) with a degree in Politics and International Relations. She was keen to learn more about women’s rights in India and recently completed a dissertation on the impact of social media on Indian Women Human Rights Defenders. Currently, she is working at an education charity in London and hopes to work in the International Women’s Rights field.