Social Media and Social Movements: Strengths, Challenges, and Implications for the Future

Social Media and Social Movements: Strengths, Challenges, and Implications for the Future

Sheldondra J. Brown, Grace M. Babcock, Monica Bixby Radu
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-7472-3.ch003
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Because of the increasing importance of the link between social media and social movements, recent research attempts to bridge the gap between media studies and sociological research on social movements. Yet, questions remain unanswered. For example, does social media help facilitate activism that leads to social change? What are the strengths and limitations of social media in creating and maintaining a social movement? This chapter explores these questions and others, paying attention to the #Blacklivesmatter hashtag and social movement, which scholars argue is a power force demanding social change in America. This chapter introduces the concepts of social media and social movements and reviews recent literature examining how social media plays an active role in creating and encouraging social movements. This chapter also considers how sociological theory can provide a better understanding of what social media means for modern social change and concludes with suggestions for future research.
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On February 1, 1960, four freshmen students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College went into a store in Greensboro, NC and sat down at a lunch counter that had been deemed for whites only. The four students were not served but remained seated at the whites-only counter until the store closed. Although the student sit-ins appeared to be an unplanned event, there was a great amount of planning that took place before the sit-ins occurred. All four of the students were members of an NAACP Youth Council and had been in contact with other activists who had participated in sit-ins in the late 1950s (Polletta, 2006). The actions of the four students—Ezell Blair Jr., David Richmond, Franklin McCain, and Joseph McNeil—suggested a spontaneous, impulsive form of resistance, rather than a planned social movement. Consequently, Polletta (2006) argued that the spontaneous nature of the sit-ins suggested a powerful moment when a group of individuals suddenly become a collective force undertaking social injustice. Yet, these events were part of a much larger, powerful, and historically significant form of collection action in the United States: The Civil Rights Movement.

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