A fourteen-year-old freshman brings a clock that he built on his own to his high school, proud to show his finished work to his teacher, only to end up getting handcuffed and being brought to a juvenile detention.
It’s a shocking story that’s sparked outrage across the country over social injustice because of the boy’s religious background—Ahmed Mohammed is a Muslim. Was him being handcuffed and questioned for hours over a simple project an act of Islamophobia or an innocent act of security? The issue was brought to the attention of millions of people after Amneh Jafari, a senior at the University of Texas Arlington, tweeted about controversy, saying “If his name was John he would be labeled as a genius. Since its Ahmed he’s labeled as a ‘suspect’”using the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed. Since that first tweet, hundreds of thousands more have been posted all across social media platforms in support of Ahmed and to stand against Islamophobia.
Whether or not one agrees that Ahmed Mohammed’s specific case should be seen as an issue of Islamophobia, it is easy to see how much social media has affected the outcome of Ahmed Mohammed’s situation. Now, instead of being suspended, the student has been invited to the White House for Astrology Night by President Obama, and has been given multiple free gifts from technology companies such as Microsoft. Would Ahmed have been lucky enough to receive such a high honor if it were not for social media? If it were not for Twitter, would he be just another student whose injustices would go unnoticed?
It’s one of the many stories we hear about that show how social media has given people the power to get their voices heard, especially for those who feel they are underrepresented in the media. More than ever teens and young adults are utilizing these social media platforms for social causes, not just updating friends and family about their personal lives; they are trying to achieve change through communicaiton technologies. Any person can make a statement and have it be heard by millions and that is how social media has changed the game of social activism. With greater access to more information, the voiceless become more powerful; their words are able to be listened to, their photos and videos being shared over and over again. A part of this is called Hashtag Aitivism and it has played a large and rather vital role in spreading the news of social issues, such as racism, sexism and foreign concerns. #BlackLivesMatter, #HeForShe, #BringBackOurGirls and #YesAllWomen are just some of the examples of hashtags used to raise awareness and rally for change.
In the article, “Hashtag Activism Isn’t a Cop-Out”, DeRay Mckesson, one of the leading organisers and activists against police brutality, argues that Twitter enables protesters to tell their own stories, from their own perspective, through documenting moments that could be easily and quickly shared with people all around the world. Mckesson also states that
“Twitter specifically has been interesting because we’re able to get feedback and responses in real time…There’s a democracy of feedback. I’ve had really robust conversations with people who aren’t physically in the space, but who have such great ideas. And that’s proven to be invaluable.”
The question is how much of a role does social media play in social movements, social activists, protests and the like—does it really have an impact in making a change or is it a vehicle for people to feel they’ve done their part by simply pressing the like button? How much can really change if nobody makes the effort to take the next step to actually do something, whether it’s donating money for a cause or actually attending protests in real life?
Retweeting and sharing may not make people motivated enough to take action—which shows the disconnect between awareness and action, and the problems that ensue —but it seems that to a certain extent liking, tweeting, sharing and communicating through social media has raised awareness for a myriad of causes, from social injustices to terminal illnesses and diseases and has proved to truly make a difference, thankfully, for kids like Ahmed Mohammed.