Social media can promote cross-cultural empowerment

Earlier this month, USC’s Asian Pacific American Student Services and UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center received an anonymous hate-filled flier in the mail. The derogatory statements in these posters make it clear that prejudice and racism are still underlying issues in the United States.

Instead of ignoring the presence of racism or dismissing each hateful incident as a onetime occurrence, minority groups must collaborate and present a united front against prejudice. Though the call for acceptance is nothing new, recent events make it clear that it is an appeal that still needs to be heard. Yet, this request for collective action is taking a new shape through the use of social media as a tool for empowerment.

The racism present in the United States is clearly different from the time of Jim Crow laws in previous decades; the prejudices that exist today are of a more subtle variety. This modern racism is like a virus and merits a more nuanced treatment. These contemporary problems, however, have contemporary solutions. Just as activists have utilized the internet to further their causes, individuals should embrace the usage of social networking sites to be used as tools to treat this problem.

More than two thirds of American adults use social media sites, according to the Pew Research Internet Project. This increase in digital networking allows users across the globe to interact in real time. Pew notes that social media users are doing more than checking their friends’ Facebook statuses; 66 percent of users have voiced their political opinions or promoted civic activity via social media.

Mary Ho, director of USC’s APASS, feels that one of the barriers to undercutting biases is the people’s inability to share their narratives and create a dialogue with society.

“Cross-cultural coalition building is important,” Ho said.

Social media allows for an instantaneous response to episodes of racism. As Ho recognized, incidents of prejudice “open up a dialogue about issues people do not readily talk about.” Though her response referred to the anonymous, hate-filled flier mailed to the APASS office, it demonstrates that negative incidents can promote positive conversation.

Though unjustified instances of prejudice promote discussion about key issues that often go unacknowledged, the Asian Pacific American Student Assembly used the incident with the racist fliers as an opportunity to harness the power of social media in a photo campaign, #BeyondtheStereotype. Participants wrote words of encouragement on their arms and posted their images to a Tumblr page, managed by the UCLA Asian Pacific Coalition and Vietnamese Student Union.

Instead of simply stating the issue, social media enables users to see and experience the problem through photos, videos and personal anecdotes. It allows activists to spread their message and facilitates communication across geographic boundaries. The #BeyondtheStereotype photo campaign, for example, extends to all minority groups and seeks to combat the systematic prejudices. This combination of active participation with the media platform, Tumblr, demonstrates an intelligent use of social media.

Still, social media should be used to assist activism, not replace it. “Liking” something on Facebook or sharing something on Twitter cannot replace physical activism.  Matthew Ingram, a journalist who specializes in social media, calls this misconception “slacktivism,” or lazy activism. Though slacktivists have the desire to help affect change, the extent of their participation is superficial and confined to the virtual realm.

Just as it is unacceptable to cite Wikipedia in an academic setting, readers must think critically about the biases inherent in the media they use. Individuals must examine their own biases before addressing larger issues. This conscious acknowledgement of personal biases can be the first step to addressing societal racism. Clearly, media can be part of the solution to addressing pervasive prejudices — it is an avenue for raising awareness and communicating to diverse groups of people. Social justice campaigns, however, should not replace concrete action. Unlike mindless internet surfing, social media activism can, and should, be a participatory event.


Veronica An is a sophomore majoring in narrative studies.