Get Angry. Go Viral. Use Social Media for Change!

Groped on the street? Can’t get good medical care for your family? Want to topple a dictator? Tell your story online—and start your own revolution. These women did.

Alexis Jetter
Photograph: iStock

EACH OF THESE SITES has found ways to move women into direct, on-the-ground involvement. But that kind of migration remains one of the biggest challenges for activists. A new study says it takes four to six direct tweets from trusted friends to capture anyone’s attention on a political issue, and that doesn’t mean the person will get off the couch and grab a protest sign or visit her congresswoman or join her school board—all real-world actions that are still crucial to making change happen. “No one knows how it works,” says Zandt. “But the campaigns that are the most successful are the ones that appeal to our emotional values. That’s what we saw in Egypt: People want dignity, and they want to be there.”

As technology grows more sophisticated, the sites will too. iHollaback.org, a U.S.-based precursor to HarassMap that takes advantage of the latest software, enables women to punch an icon on their smartphones, choose whether to take a photo of their harasser and later share the details of the abuse—-information that is then uploaded to Hollaback’s website, along with blogs, tips and news. “Change has always been about telling our stories,” says the site’s founder, Emily May. “But now we can map our stories. We can photograph our stories. We can tell our stories on blogs.” And produce concrete results: In 2008, after months of pressure from Hollaback members, New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority agreed to plaster antigroping signs in the subways, and now the city council is considering more aggressive action against harassers. “All of a sudden we’re not just talking to our friends online,” May says. “We can use our stories to talk to people in the community, talk to legislators and spread the word.”

Ultimately, though, what draws women to these sites is something deeper: a camaraderie of the pissed off and the passionate. As one woman posted on Hollaback: “Using your camera phone is a subtle way to take some kind of action when you feel powerless . . . [It] connects you to an entire community of people who collectively say this is awful, it shouldn’t have happened to you, and it wasn’t your fault. When people ask me, ‘What good does it do to post a picture on a blog?’ I say, ‘Are you kidding?! We’re building a movement!’ ”

ALEXIS JETTER’S last story for More, “Killer Sex,” investigated the hidden epidemic of HIV/AIDS in women over 40. She teaches journalism at Dartmouth.

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First Published August 24, 2011

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