How User-Generated Content Shapes Social Movements

Think about the multitude of ways the internet has changed our daily lives. You can order food, cosmetics, furniture, tech products, or practically anything else you could ever want with a few clicks. Music streaming services such as Spotify make your favorite albums available on the go without any downloads. A plethora of free books, research papers, dissertations, dictionaries and college courses are at your fingertips, waiting for you to access them. And you can video chat with anyone — in real time — even if you’re thousands of miles away from them.

All of this wouldn’t be worth talking about if we didn’t mention social media, which has connected us like never before. Facebook has about 1.79 billion users. Instagram has 600 million, and Twitter is home to 317 million active Tweeters.

This combined force of over 2 billion people has done much more than cause a scramble for better servers. It has given rise and a platform to some of the most contentious social movements in history.

The Arab Spring Paves the Way

Social movements and UGC
Bahraini protesters walk through Sitra in early 2011. The Arab spring would quickly become one of the most miraculous social movements in history. Photo by Al Jazeera English/Flickr.

The role cyberactivism played in the Arab Spring — and its effectiveness — has always been a favorite subject of debate for journalists and scholars. This monumental wave of anti-government protests in 2011 was partly able to mobilize and spread its cause via social media. This was especially true in countries such as Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia, where revolutionaries formed their own online groups to discuss ideas and plans or schedule protests.

Social media sites allowed activists in social movements to share a staggering amount of uncensored information and meet others with similar political views who had faced the same hardships.

Data from the University of Washington shows that a week before former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, tweets about Egypt’s political system exploded — from 2,300 to 230,000 tweets a day.

The internet presence of opposition groups “increased dramatically.” Protest and political commentary videos also went viral, and the top 23 received almost 5.5 million hits.

Others have different hypotheses. According to a 2012 report by the United States Institute of Peace, social media didn’t necessarily cause the uprising. Instead, it allowed the world to see what was happening in the Middle East. notes that their report backs up social media as a tool for disseminating information, but doesn’t “necessarily indicate that social media was a mobilizing force in the uprisings.”

Despite social media’s true role in the uprisings, it shattered what Mic’s Saleem Kassim calls the “psychological barrier of fear.” Like-minded people connected and started a regional movement, and that in itself is powerful.

In fact, the Arab Spring is partly where Scopio‘s CEO, Christina Hawatmeh, found inspiration for our platform. She and Scopio’s co-founders understood how messy it was for journalists to search hashtags and keywords for great content from social movements. Scopio provides a solution to that problem, as it combines the power of machine learning and social media to bring clients a clean feed of relevant content.

How #BlackLivesMatter Morphed from Hashtag to Social Movement

Social movements and UGC
Photo by gordon13ombay /Instagram

Sandra Bland. Michael Brown. Freddie Gray. Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. Rekia Boyd. If you followed the news media through 2014, these names probably sound all too familiar to you.

All were black Americans, all were unarmed, all were killed by police officers and all were covered extensively by the media. But without the #BlackLivesMatter movement, these names might not have made the cut at major news outlets.

After neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was acquitted for the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin in 2012, police brutality projected toward people of color shot into the national spotlight. The first use of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag came shortly after in July 2013 — from Californian labor organizer Alicia Garza’s Facebook account — in response to Zimmerman’s acquittal. The hashtag was somewhat slow to catch on, but would make its big break on social media the following year.

In the weeks following Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, #BlackLivesMatter averaged 58,747 tweets a day. But in the three weeks after a grand jury acquitted Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in his killing, the hashtag appeared on over 1.7 million Tweets.

“Social media has been critical in the knitting together of a national narrative of police violence and abuse,” Princeton University professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor tells Al Jazeera.

“Before, these incidents were depicted as isolated and individual. Social media platforms have shown how they are part of a generalised and pervasive pattern of police abuse.”

The police killings of Eric Garner (189,210 tweets in a day), Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland also propelled the hashtag onto Twitter’s trending bar, often accompanied by footage of the killing.

Today, #BlackLivesMatter is more than a hashtag on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or any other social media site. It’s a monolithic political force, a household name, an ideology and an organization with chapters across the country.

How’s that for hashtivism?

The Women’s March Makes World History

Women's March 2017, Social Movements and UGC
Photo by sulafrique/Instagram

To say that this year’s Women’s March on Washington was a giant event is a gross understatement. It was colossal, and brought millions upon millions of marchers into the streets. It wasn’t just women’s rights at the forefront of the movement, either. Protestors railed against climate change, police brutality, discrimination against the LGBTQ community, the Dakota Access Pipeline and the conservative policies of President Donald Trump.

The march was America’s largest demonstration since the anti-Vietnam protests of the 1960s and ’70s. In fact, experts estimate that it was the largest one-day protest in American history. But this time, social media captured all of it.

The Women’s March organizers decided on the hashtag #WhyIMarch before the event so that all pictures, videos and posts could be filtered into one place.

As of January 26, nearly a week after the event, #WhyIMarch garnered 181,012 posts on Instagram. Other hashtags took center stage, though. #WomensMarch took off, and now has over 1,271,000 Instagram posts. It also sparked hashtags specifically for other cities, such as New York, London, Denver, Paris and Boston.

Other popular spin offs included #PussyGrabsBack, #DumpTrump, #NastyWoman and #NotMyPresident. Additionally, the Women’s March social media accounts are still posting regularly.

As #WomenInTech, we felt the need to capture a spam- and ad-free collection of all of these images and videos (the real-time feed lives here). We also gathered 15 of the most creative, inspiring and quirky signs at the Women’s March in one of our blog posts. We think it makes for a pretty entertaining read!

Social media isn’t just a way to share something you believe in. It can also help keep social movements alive.

Tired of useless Instagram searches and Twitter feeds? If you’re looking for social media images and videos related to social movements, give Scopio a try. Our algorithm sorts through all the spam and junk on social media so you don’t have to. Just add the hashtags and keywords you’re interested in to a campaign.

See results in real-time, and request photos and videos directly from your dashboards. Make connections with your audiences, increase engagement and capture social movements. It’s seriously that simple. If you’re armed with questions, just drop us a message at We’d love to hear from you. Featured photo by @bdspitz/Instagram.

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