On January 21, 2017, hundreds of thousands marched the streets of cities around the globe, participating in one of the most historic events in U.S. history. The women’s march was a protest not only against the new president, but also against the general discrimination that women and other minorities face today. Yet what made this protest different from numerous others is that for the first time for an event this large, the march itself was promoted mainly through social media, combining modern technology with the agenda of achieving social justice. The Washington women’s march Twitter page, for example, has more than 428 thousand followers, while 621 thousand were invited to the event on Facebook.
Yet as many noticed after the march, social media did more than it was intended to — and not necessarily in a good way. On one hand, it encouraged people to unite against discrimination, but on the other, it worked as a way to spread anger and disunity about details such as the purpose of the march and who was participating.
The Role of Anger
Social media may have contributed to a lack of unity in the march, spreading anger and division rather than integration.
Anger is, scientifically, the most viral emotion on the internet. As researchers from China’s Beihang University found, anger spreads more quickly than any other emotion on social media. These researchers measured the amount of times posts on Twitter were retweeted or mentioned in a comment based on the emotion they represented, and they found anger spread more than four times faster than disgust, twice as fast as joy, and 25 percent faster than sadness.
MV French teacher Melanie Barker, who attended a local march with her family, said that despite her goals in going to the march, social media spread unnecessary negativity about it.
“Social media did a good job of spreading the news of how many different marches there were — I think that was exciting,” she said. “However, there is some criticism [online] of the march that the goals weren’t unified, or there were too many white women, and too many people were doing selfie-type photos and not really taking it seriously.”
Emma-Louise Boynton noted the same idea in her New York Times article, writing that before the march, debate on social media about what the purpose of the march should be worked against the goals of the march itself. While the march was meant to protest unfair treatment of all minorities, social media worked to divide people into groups based on what issues they felt should be addressed, from racism to transgender rights.
Promoting the March
But social media deserves a couple likes as well.
Despite the negativity that social media brought to the women’s march, it also worked positively to increase awareness of the march both before and after it, as well as spread important messages about women’s rights. MV junior Ananya Bhat, who attended the march in San Jose, thought that social media helped spread her happiness for participating in the march after she posted on Facebook about it.
“I RSVP’d to the event, and right after that, I posted on Facebook,” she said. “In all caps, I wrote ‘I’m going to the women’s march in San Jose!’ with lots of exclamation marks. I definitely got excited by seeing a ton of my friends post, not just about it, but after they attended.”
For Bhat, social media was a positive influence in making people aware and excited about the march. Indeed, social media’s main purpose for the march was simply spreading information about it — as Paul Farhi explained in an article on the Washington Post, “Taken collectively, the Women’s March on Washington and its many affiliated ‘sister’ marches were perhaps the largest single demonstration of the power of social media to create a mobilization.”
Barker utilized the helpful aspects of social media in the march as well, explaining how it helped her spread information about her participation in the march.
“I wanted to ‘check in’ to that event to give them an accurate view of how many people were there,” she said. “I shared it as well for anybody who lived in the area wanted to attend so they could see that we were there.”
Barker brings up an important point — despite the disagreement that erupted on social media over the march, it was extremely effective in spreading information and excitement about the event. Anger may be the most viral emotion on the Internet, but social media works to spread other emotions, albeit slower, as well. Social media, when looked at overall, worked mainly to spread information about the women’s march, creating one of the largest online revolutions in history. And ultimately, whether it helped the overall goals of the march or not, it is hard to deny that without it, the march may not have happened at all.