A large and seemingly instantaneous protest movement has risen in cities across the nation – including all ages, genders, creeds, and spanning the political spectrum. But how do these protests start, and where does the mass organization come from?
The protests occurring almost every day since the beginning of the Trump presidency have their origins online – and that shouldn’t be too surprising. According to the Pew Research Center, seven out of every ten Americans have social media accounts— a number that has increased dramatically across all age groups over the years.
This increase in the prevalence of social media in American culture has led to powerful changes in politics and the means of protest. Organizations like Free Press are using the power of the Internet to promote the resistance campaign and to mobilize activists across America.
In a daily email newsletter called “100 Days of Disruption,” Free Press blasts out different action items – like asking readers to call a senator about a particular issue, or retweet a fellow member of the resistance effort. Users can sign up online.
Similarly, people can also sign up for Daily Action Alerts by texting “DAILY” to the number 228-466, or “ACTION” on a keypad. After replying with a zip code, cell phone users can receive texts about action items with direct phone numbers to Congressmen and other officials in their area.
Many organizers mobilize action through traditional social media strategy like Facebook events and Twitter calls-to-action. In seconds, someone can create a public Facebook event or tweet out information to notify their followers and friends of a specific time, place, and date to gather and take action.
With these methods, a large protest can be organized in the blink of an eye – like the demonstration at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York that began just hours after President Trump signed the travel ban executive order last Friday. The JFK protest alone attracted hundreds, and quickly protests were arising in airports across the country.
Some demonstrations like the Women’s March, which is estimated to be the largest protest in American history, took months in careful planning – but this new round of powerful, seemingly instantaneous protests against Trump’s recent actions displays the power of social media at its strongest.
According to The New York Times, the social media resistance mobilizes hundreds of thousands in a short time period, garners moral and financial support for organizations like the ACLU, and creates a resistance brand of humorous slogans and memes for the world to see.
Resistance branding takes its most common form with online activism, which has taken a new prominence in this time and presidency. Hashtag campaigns like #RESIST, #DisruptTrump, and others have taken social media, particularly Twitter, by storm.
A wide range of outspoken celebrities like model Chrissy Teigen, actress Olivia Wilde, and television host Bill Maher continue to stir Twitter frenzies with frequent criticisms of the new president — with normal Americans following their lead, and sounding off on their respective platforms.
Looking further into the real origins of the social media protest movement, online and on the streets, means tracking the way social media has played a part in political discourse and news dissemination in the years prior to the present day.
The 2016 election was truly a social media-driven election; presidential candidate Hillary Clinton announced the launch of her campaign on YouTube. Television campaign ads were also prevalent on Facebook and YouTube to reach a growing online audience. Both Clinton’s campaign and President Donald Trump’s campaign utilized Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook more than any other previous political campaign, even that of former president Barack Obama.
It’s no surprise that political responses to these online campaign methods also happened on the web. But beyond political campaigning, an increasing number of Americans are now getting their news from social media. According to Pew, six out of every ten Americans receive their news through social means – with Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter being their main sources.
However, some see the power of social media as a double edged sword.
An NPR article last fall pointed out the problems with social media culture, mainly that it emphasizes polarization by making it easier to criticize those who disagree and by creating an ‘’echo chamber,” in which users only see and read about things with which they agree, particularly on Facebook.
“Social media can be bad because you’re most likely going to be surrounded by people with the same ideas as you and then not understand what the country is actually feeling or thinking,” said Phoebe Batchelor, a student at The George Washington University. “The country is so diverse, and obviously a lot of people are angry — that’s why someone like Trump did so well.”
Batchelor also noted that social media helped bring Trump to fame, providing him with a significant platform.
Whether or not social media is increasing polarization in America, there’s no doubt that it has the ability to connect people and mobilize them. Sabrina Mongiello, a 20 year old student at California State University at Long Beach and participant in Los Angeles’ own Women’s March, admired social media’s ability to unify people to action — from marches to calling a Congressman:
“Social media provides the world with a way to step into someone else’s shoes and understand their life experience in a way that wasn’t even close to possible even 15 years ago.”