Facebook as a Platform for Social Justice

Introduction

People frequently feel the need to defend their rights, and one of the most common ways of doing so is the initiation of social movements. In such campaigns, activists announce their desire to reach equity and thus be released from oppression. While social movements have a rich history, differences in the methods of their organization can be seen in different historical periods. In recent decades, social networking websites have become an increasingly popular means of communication.

Taking this fact into consideration, participants in social movements have started using social platforms to arrange their activity. Moreover, the leaders of such campaigns have realized the value of social networks in initiating different movements and inviting new activists to join them. Facebook belongs to the list of the most popular social platforms. Because it involves a huge number of users, Facebook is frequently used for advertising and promotional campaigns.

Many researchers have dedicated their studies to investigating the issue of whether Facebook should or should not be regarded as an appropriate platform for social justice. While some authors believe that Facebook can perform the function of a social justice platform (Copley, 2016; Harlow, 2012; Mercea, 2013; Siegman, 2013), others consider it an insufficient way of arranging social movements (MacLellan, 2015; Weinstein, 2014).

Many scholarly papers are dedicated to analyzing the connection between social networks and social movements. Glasius and Pleyers (2013) focus on approaches to propagating democracy, social justice, and dignity with the help of social platforms. Kidd and McIntosh (2016) investigate ways to promote social activism with the help of social media. Other authors concentrate on a narrower issue, namely, Facebook’s role in social processes.

Pavan (2016), Dimond (2013), and Mercea (2013) discuss the power of Facebook in organizing social movements. Harlow (2012) analyzes the spread of the justice movement with the help of Facebook. Siegman (2016) investigates the role of Facebook in the formation of the attitude of millennials toward social justice.

Some scholars have chosen to investigate the role of Facebook in the promotion of particular social or political actions. The impact of Facebook in the initiation of the so-called Arab Spring and its manifestation in different countries is analyzed in the articles of Alaimo (2015), Müller (2014), and Smidi and Shanin (2017). Alaimo’s study focuses on the Egyptian Revolution and Facebook’s role in its popularization. The article by Müller (2014) investigates the so-called Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia. Smidi and Shanin’s (2017) research is dedicated to the social network’s assistance in mobilizing people during the Arab Spring.

There are also studies whose authors view Facebook as a way of achieving better access to social justice (Asad and Le Dantec, 2015; Robertson, 2012). In their article, Asad and Le Dantec (2015) examine the impact of information and computer technologies on the development of social activity as well as the support that these technologies provide to activists. Research by Robertson (2012) focuses on the idea that because it provides great possibilities for communication, Facebook may help to democratize legal data and give more people access to justice.

While the majority of scholars consider Facebook’s contribution to social movements to be positive, others alternatively express the opinion that the social network’s impact is not entirely beneficial. MacLellan (2015) and Weinstein (2014) argue that Facebook is not capable of spurring considerable changes in social life. Copley (2016) and Tobin (2013) are convinced that Facebook is more a media organization than a social platform. Scholars agree that the social network has much power, but they consider this power to be more destructive than helpful.

Taking into consideration a large number of studies analyzing the role of Facebook in the establishment and development of social movements, it is necessary to examine each approach separately. The literature review is aimed at analyzing the opinions of different scholars regarding whether Facebook may be considered a platform for social justice.

The Relationship between Social Networks and Social Movements

In an attempt to answer the question about social media’s ability to make a social movement successful, Kidd and McIntosh divide the opinions regarding this issue into three “camps”: optimistic, pessimistic, and ambivalent (785). According to the authors, those who belong to the first camp argue that revolutionary ideas can be shared with the help of social networks and that they have already been promoted in this way. Pessimists consider networks like Facebook ineffective for fomenting a revolution.

Moreover, they think that social media may present obstacles to beneficial social change (Kidd and McIntosh 785). Supporters of the ambivalent approach find it necessary to evaluate the testimony on balance and only then assess how successful the role of media may be. This group of people finds change possible, even though it may be difficult. Kidd and McIntosh identify flaws in techno-optimism and techno-pessimism and conclude that techno-balance is the most effective approach (792).

The weaknesses of techno-optimism are as follows: It exaggerates the novelty of social websites, moves to prediction without any proofs, and underrates the ability of authorities to accommodate technology. The flaws of techno-pessimism include erroneous romanticizing of life prior to the advent of social media, exaggerating the adverse impact of social networks, and undervaluing the ability of users to come up with new methods for using media (Kidd and McIntosh 792).

In their study, Glasius and Pleyers argue that there are three types of commonalities characterizing post-2010 social movements (547). The first is a similar framework of meetings that promote quick diffusion. The second feature is the generational background formed by taking part in global information movements. The third commonality is associated with the fact that the participants in such meetings have made similar demands (Glasius and Pleyers 547).

The authors note that the origin of the post-2010 social movements was similar, having three interrelated concepts as a basis: social justice, democracy, and dignity. In connection with these concepts, post-2010 movements exhibit a few other features in common: Their activists endeavor not to be corrupted by power and do not trust institutional politics (Glasius and Pleyers 547). Glasius and Pleyers argue that the rise in social movements is connected with the fact that the younger generation does not have the stability that their parents had before them (552). Therefore, these people are trying to improve their lives by participating in social movements that may change the situation for the better.

Mobilizing Movements with the Help of Facebook

Out of a vast number of social network systems, Facebook is considered by many scholars to be the most influential. The younger generation not only regularly uses Facebook for social connections but also reads the news there and uses the platform as a tool of power (Siegman). Moreover, millennials’ constant engagement in social networking is considered to be a mechanism for sharing opinions about social justice (Siegman). Facebook is a tool for organizing social change, and activists employ it to promote their ideas and invite more followers.

In their analysis of Facebook’s functioning as a social platform, scholars emphasize its power to integrate people. Pavan calls such power “sociotechnical” and argues that it originates from a combination of social media’s networking possibilities and resources (433). The author remarks that joint efforts involving social activists and the government bring about the best outcomes. By including the institutional component, activists receive better opportunities to make their demands heard and taken into account (Pavan 436).

Thus, it can become easier to create and explain the need for various policy changes with the help of Facebook. Mercea also investigates how social movement organizations use Facebook (1306), analyzing the methods of communication used by two movements to contact their participants through Facebook. The campaigns whose Facebook groups are included in Mercea’s study are Occupy Den Haag and the Camp for Climate Action (1307).

The analysis indicates that the following common roles are played by Facebook groups in social movement organizations: information, deliberation, self-organization, mobilization, and expression of solidarity (1313). Additionally, according to Mercea, Facebook allows protest groups to choose the parameters of participation and to join other groups that may be invited to join the movements (1321). The article gives insight into social groups’ means of organizing their activity.

Harlow’s study focuses on Facebook’s role in helping a movement to change its status from online to offline (1). With the aid of content analysis, the author examines Facebook comments associated with the events of 2009 in Guatemala. In a posthumous video, Rodrigo Rosenberg accused the country’s president Alvaro Colom for his murder (Harlow 1–2). As Harlow notes, Facebook played a significant role in the initiation of the Guatemalan Justice Movement (1). According to the author, users’ comments that were of a protesting and motivational nature assisted in organizing a number of protests in the country.

In addition to comments, people used links and other features to promote their ideas of justice (Harlow 2). However, what started as an online campaign soon went beyond the network and resulted in a physical protest offline. Thus, the Guatemalan Justice Movement is an example of Facebook’s power to initiate not only seemingly silent online movements but even real offline events.

Another example of Facebook’s promotional role in social movements is analyzed in an article by Dimond et al. focusing on the activity of Hollaback (477), a social organization whose major aim is to put an end to street harassment. The authors investigate the role of storytelling techniques in the context of arranging social campaigns (Dimond et al. 477). Dimond et al. conclude that sharing one’s negative experience in the form of a story has several beneficial features (485–488).

The people who write these stories feel more relief and support after sharing them, while those who read them can find out about the typical behavior of attackers and learn how to avoid becoming a victim. Thus, the authors consider that social networks such as Facebook fulfill an important function in organizing large masses of people that used to be accomplished by earlier social movements.

The Role of Facebook in the Promotion of the Arab Spring

One of the most broadly discussed social movements within recent years was the so-called Arab Spring—a series of uprisings in the Middle East that occurred in 2011. In their research, Smidi and Shahin argue that Facebook and other social media helped to initiate or support the Arab Spring (196). Social networks gave voice to people living in communities whose media were under strict control by the government.

Thus, Facebook allowed people to communicate, mobilize, and arrange demonstrations (Smidi and Shahin 200-201). Activists could share their ideas and propagate protests, actions that were impossible to perform with the help of traditional media sources. Smidi and Shahin remark that while some scholars doubt the importance of Facebook during the Arab Spring, other opinions about this social network’s significance prevail (204). Researchers define three major functions that Facebook played in the Arab Spring: It gave people faith in their voice, enabled mobilization and communication, and helped activists to share their ideas worldwide (Smidi and Shahin 204).

The study by Müller focuses on Facebook’s role in the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia that was a predecessor to the Arab Spring (17). The author mentions that the employment of a social network helped activists to fight against the country’s corrupt regime and dictatorship. The Tunisian revolution is considered the first successful example of transforming an online protest into a real-life event (Müller 17). While the government had total control over traditional media, it had no power when it came to social means of communication and information sharing. As a result, people obtained the possibility to communicate and spread information about protests with the help of Facebook.

A similar positive experience is described in Alaimo’s article dedicated to the Egyptian Revolution (1). The author analyzes how a Facebook page helped its creator, Wael Ghonim, to promote revolutionary ideas and to encourage people to become politically active (Alaimo 5–6). Alaimo investigates the language of Ghonim’s page, the types of responses given by his followers, his leadership style, and the impact made by his Facebook page (5–7). The author concludes that the role played by the social network was much more significant than expected (Alaimo 7). Thus, Facebook is an important platform for political and social change that can stimulate people to support justice movements.

Facebook as a Means of Obtaining Better Access to Justice

While Facebook is a great means of sharing information and mobilizing people, it has another significant feature: giving people better access to justice. In her research, Robertson argues that there are two principal reasons why social networks bring justice closer to people (1). The first option that the author discusses is that Facebook has the ability to disrupt the usual practice of law by providing litigants more data about their legal rights. This popular social network also enables a better connectivity with lawyers who may be operating at different levels and increases the possibility of obtaining relevant data about the case (Robertson 4).

The second opportunity, as defined by Robertson, is that Facebook empowers people to defend their rights and opportunities (1). The author argues that litigants are more likely than lawyers to initiate change, and Facebook’s role in this trend is crucial. According to Robertson, social networking provides exceptional possibilities for communication and connectivity (1). As a result of obtaining legal data, people will have better access to justice.

In their article, Asad and Le Dantec also analyze how information and communication technologies promote community involvement and support access to justice (1694). The authors argue that social networks support such significant information practices as codification, situating, and scaffolding. Each of these practices, according to Asad and Le Dantec, can help to promote civic engagement (1697). Situating is defined as a process of disclosing acute issues and informing people about their potential consequences. Facebook plays a role in this process in that it helps share information with a large number of people (Asad and Le Dantec 1697).

Codification incorporates the act of translating one issue for various aims within the organization. This practice concerns methods used by group members to arrange their methods of communication. Also, codification is responsible for making sure that necessary data reach the particular audience (Asad and Le Dantec 1699). Scaffolding is used for putting knowledge into use with the aim of obtaining supplementary support from community members and justice groups (Asad and Le Dantec 1699–1700). Situating, codification, and scaffolding are interconnected and help to provide people with more advantageous options involving justice.

Doubting Facebook’s Mobilizing Effectiveness

While the majority of scholars consider Facebook’s social power to be significant, some articles are dedicated to the issue of a great disparity between real and online movements. In her study, Weinstein focuses on the differences of online and offline civic expression (210). Although the author notes some similarities between these two forms of expression, she is convinced that online movements do not have sufficient power. Weinstein differentiated between three types of expression patterns: bounded, blended, and differentiated (215).

People who blend are willing to share their civic beliefs online. Those who bound avoid expressing their offline views in online settings, thus establishing boundaries. People who differentiate have different modes of civic expression on various online platforms: They may bound on one platform and blend on another. Moreover, they may choose to what extent to share their expression on different social networks (Weinstein 215–216).

The author also analyzes the reasons why people may avoid expressing their opinions online. Weinstein mentions that while offline expression may cause problems related to social relationships, online expression may present challenges that are no less crucial (Weinstein 213–214). According to Weinstein, people may be afraid to express their views online because too many people have access to the information (213). An individual may change an opinion, but it is difficult to change the things the individual has posted or reposted. That is why some people are cautious about online civic expression. As a result, it cannot be considered the most reliable social platform (Weinstein 214).

In her article, McLellan expresses doubt about Facebook’s success as a social platform. The author points to the fact that online petitions and hashtags cannot bring about real change and cannot compete with offline activity (McLellan). According to political science professor Hahrie Han, modern social movements have a transactional rather than transformative form of organization, which takes away from their ability to make a real change (McLellan).

While transformative efforts deepen people’s engagement, transactional actions merely ask participants to perform one or more tasks. Examples of transactional efforts include signing a petition, donating funds, and writing letters. Transformative actions encourage people to organize real-life events and take an active part in them (McLellan). Therefore, Facebook is not considered the most successful social platform by McLellan and Weinstein.

Facebook: Social Platform or a Media Company?

One more opinion can be found to argue against Facebook being a sufficient platform for social justice. Some consider this network more as a media company than a social website. The articles by Copley and Tobin are dedicated to Facebook’s refusal to remove “hate speech” and the outcomes engendered by such refusal. Copley quotes Germany’s Minister of Justice, Heiko Maas, who said that Facebook should be considered a media company.

If the network is given such a status, it will bear a legal responsibility for failing to eliminate hate speech from its pages (Copley). Maas considers it a significant issue and says that even though Facebook does not entirely correspond to the definition of television or radio, the functions that it performs are quite similar. Although Facebook signed the European Union hate speech code, it is not in a hurry to remove hate speech from posts. Thus, the promise to fight xenophobia and racism has not yet been implemented (Copley).

Tobin also draws attention to Facebook’s refusal to remove hate speech and other types of offensive remarks from its pages. According to the author, the network has relatively vague boundaries between what may and what may not be considered improper (Tobin).

As a result, people’s freedom of speech violates the right of other users not to be offended and to use their social pages for pleasure. Tobin reports that when she complained about a specific hate-speech issue, a moderator responded by saying that the photo she had reported did not violate the community standard and thus would not be removed. Therefore, Facebook’s functioning as a social network is undermined by the website’s policies concerning hate speech regulations. Some people think that it cannot function as a platform for social justice if it does not eliminate offensive language and other serious issues.

Conclusion

The need for social justice encourages people to resort to a variety of methods that may help them prove their point. One of the most effective approaches to arranging social justice movements, sharing information about them, and inviting new members involves the use of social network systems. Facebook is a leading social website used by leaders and participants of justice campaigns. While some scholars express doubts about the mobilizing power of Facebook (MacLellan, 2015; Weinstein, 2014) and consider it a media company rather than social platform (Tobin, 2013), others believe that it suggests many benefits for social activists. Scholarly papers reviewed in the paper are dedicated to several aspects of Facebook’s role in social movements.

Some authors view Facebook as a powerful tool in arranging movements (Copley, 2016; Harlow, 2012; Mercea, 2013; Siegman, 2013. Others have investigated the connection between social movements and social networks (Glasius and Pleyers, 2013; Kidd and McIntosh, 2016). Several articles analyze Facebook’s role in social processes and its power to organize social movements (Pavan, 2016; Dimond, 2013; Mercea, 2013).

The importance of Facebook in the lives of members of the younger generation has also been investigated (Siegman, 2016). One specific category of articles focuses on Facebook’s activity during the Arab Spring (Alaimo, 2015; Müller, 2014; Smidi and Shanin, 2017). Finally, there are research papers whose authors argue that Facebook provides people with better access to justice (Asad and Le Dantec 2015; Robertson 2012).

The large number of studies dedicated to Facebook’s function in social movements is a testimony to the significance of the issue. As a result of this literature review, it is possible to conclude that Facebook is an appropriate platform for social justice.

Works Cited

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