With the emergence of social media as a source for news, it is little surprise that it has also become a social activism platform. But how do you know which movements are credible? Do you fact check news before believing it? Where exactly is social media taking us?
These were only a few of the many questions discussed at the Activism in Media Panel in honor of Black History Month, organized by The BEAT – Viacom’s employee resource group dedicated to the African-American experience – at the company’s Times Square headquarters.
Kimberly Renee Selden, content producer, educator, and founder of The Global Media Project, moderated this conversation among four influential media voices, each of whom shared a background in media and a common drive to pave the way for others.
Eunique Gibson Jones is a content creator, director, and speaker who develops campaigns that ignite conversations and introspection. She also founded Because of Them We Can, a movement that empowers the next generation to honor the legacy of their ancestors.
Social Media Activism: The Pros and Cons
Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat have obvious upsides – giving voice to the voiceless, quickly disseminating information, providing optimal platforms for engagement – but the panel also uncovered some of the downsides, including the spread of disinformation, the cultivation of short attention spans, and a lack of true depth from so-called “engagements.”
Gibson Jones elaborated on a real-life consequence of short attention spans: “Last February, I ran a campaign for Because of Them We Can. On February 1 we like to kick it off for Black History Month, but at the same time our video went up, Beyonce announced that she was having twins!”
The lesson: do not underestimate the importance of strategic timing to the success of social media activism.
The Power of Positive Storytelling on Media
When creating a movement, it is important to stay positive and consistent, to maintain the mission, values, purpose, and story of that movement and keep people engaged and motivated.
“The stories that we tell and how we tell them have a direct impact in terms of our own self- image as well as our images around others,” said Coleman Jr. “Those in the creative process have a tremendous power to shape narratives. My personal goal and what I am currently working on is creating a platform to reconstruct the narrative of young men of color, so that they can see themselves in higher power, and know that their goals are attainable. Positive stories are visualization, and visualizations become reality.”
Coleman Jr.’s remarks invoked a sense of gratefulness within me for my opportunity as an intern at Viacom. The company sets forth positive stories for all interns and employees and gives us the resources to succeed and to reach higher levels.
Curating a Healthy Media Diet
While positive narratives are essential, they are not always what we get.
“With growing technology and access for information, we have to be critical thinkers,” Coleman Jr. said. “The internet is largely unregulated, and there’s no guidance on how to properly consume media.”
To separate the good information from bad, the panelists recommended a few steps to maintaining a healthy media diet: fact check stories across at least three sources, make educated decisions based upon prior knowledge, learn to differentiate between real and fake news, and help children understand the difference between news, commentary and analysis. And, finally, understand that, in most cases, algorithms determine what you see on social media based upon your past activity, so consider your own behavior in surfacing the sort of content you consume.
Sponsors and being a media activist
As the panel came to its last Q&A question, Corporate Communications intern Tatiana Cadet brought up a question about the dynamic between influencer-activists and their corporate partners:
“When you’re working with brands and corporations and you start your own movement and allow your social media to be the way you want it to be, do you feel like those brands you’re working with then have a responsibility too in terms of activism in media? And do you think it’s possible to be involved with your own movements when working with corporations gets involved?”
The panelists urged caution in choosing your collaborators in order to avoid conflict later on. “I haven’t accepted to work with every brand that has reached out to me – I have one major sponsor because we align on values and messages,” said Gibson Jones. “I know they get what my purpose is and I feel confident working with them. If you’re working with a brand where values don’t align, it becomes hard to post on media and it isn’t as natural because of the fear of severing ties.”