Digest No. 04 - June 2018

For Every Vice, There’s a Virtue: How Students Use Social Media as a Vehicle for Activism

Linder, C., J. S. Meyers, C. Riggle, and M. Lacy. 2016. “From Margins to Mainstream: Social Media as a Tool for Cam-pus Sexual Violence Activism.” Journal of Diversity in Higher Education 9(3): 231–234.


What role does social media play in teaching and learning? In building community? In spurring responsible activism? These questions underscore the current investigation of students’ use of social media as a vehicle for activism, specifically regarding sexual violence on campus.

Although the ubiquity of social media use among college students is unquestionable, its empirical study has remained underwhelming, as technologies often outpace research designed to understand its use. Grounded in literature relating to activism, social media and activism, and cyberfeminism (where gender meets the Internet; see Cunningham and Crandall 2014, p. 233), the authors frame the study as one to help administrators explore strategies for using social media as a means for consciousness-raising, community building, and what the authors refer to as a counterspace (p. 234) for sexual assault activism.


Underneath the study’s themes are questions CIC campus leaders may want to entertain:

  • Is social media activism real activism? Who gets to decide?
  • How might educators embrace the potential of social media platforms for providing new opportunities for and—in some cases—extending community considerations for students?
  • How do social media platforms disrupt hegemonic norms often embedded within college communities? Offer an alternative place for marginalized students to share ideas? Find community? Make friends?

The authors of this study addressed these questions through the use of internet-related ethnography (Postill and Pink 2012), which combined interviews from 23 activists with observations of online activist communities. This methodology was innovative for its approach to uncovering activist themes related to social media usage. From these data points, the authors provided many powerful stories about social media and its use in giving students opportunities to organize around an idea and find a voice often obscured during in-person conversations about personal and controversial topics such as sexual violence. As one student observed, “When I’m on Twitter I feel like I’m…in my own community because I follow a lot of Brown, queer feminist[s] and I’m in on these conversations…. Twitter is this unique place where that can exist…. We share this important space where I can breathe a sigh of relief where I can get the validation I need. Where I can have a conversation with just us or us and whoever want[s] to join in and there’s no hierarchy. (p. 239).”


Rather than resist, educators at CIC institutions should understand how students use these platforms for information gathering as well as in community building, especially those students who struggle finding community access points on campus. Is there an administrator charged with routinely examining student trafficking, specifically regarding social media use? With how students use social media plat-forms to communicate with other students about campus-based issues?

Of course, it remains the charge of educators to teach students how to use social media platforms, both well and responsibly. Sharing best practices in social media use provides a helpful direction, as technological advances will continue to outpace research on social media’s influence in student learning and behavior.

About the Authors

Chris Linder is assistant professor in the college student affairs administration program in the Department of Counseling and Human Development at the University of Georgia.

Jess S. Meyers is director of the Women’s Center at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

Colleen Riggle is assistant dean of students and director of the Women’s Resource Center at Georgia Tech University.

Marvette Lacy is director of the Women’s Resource Center at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Literature Readers May Wish to Consult

Cunningham, C. M., and H. M. Crandall. 2014. “Social Media for Social Justice: Cyberfeminism in the Digital Village.” In Feminist Community Engagement: Achieving Praxis, edited by S. V. Iverson and J. H. James, 75–91. London, UK: Palgrave.

Postill, J., and S. Pink. 2012. “Social Media Ethnography: The Digital Researcher in a Messy Web.” Media International Australia 145: 123–134.