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Elianne Ramos Headshot

Latino-Focused Online Activism: Does It Work?

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Over the last couple of years since laws like SB 1070, HB 56, and HB 2281 have cropped up in all over the states, countless campaigns have tried to prompt Latinos into civic action, most notably the "Do I look illegal", "Alto Arizona" and recently, the "Librotraficante" campaigns. In that same vein, I recently ran across a new campaign that aims to do just that: Moving2Maricopa.

The campaign takes on a multimedia approach in an attempt to get people to talk about, share and support the Border Action Network (BAN), a group that is working to build the voice for human rights at the Arizona-Mexico Border.

What this campaign and others like it have in common is that "we're-mad-as-hell-and-we're-not-going-to-take-it-anymore" bent with a social media wedge thrown into it. I reached out to the Bravo Ad Agency, one of BAN's partner creators of the campaign, to talk about their objectives for the effort. In the words of Hugo Castillo, one of their creative directors, the campaign can be thought of as, "a modern day pink ribbon, if you will. What we are primary seeking is to have it reach as many people as possible, and independently of where they stand politically, to help start a conversation around an issue that affects the nation as a whole."

Official numbers from the agency put the campaign at over 5,000 likes on Facebook, or about 168 per day since its inception. From my own non-scientific research [posts on Facebook and Twitter], the campaign got mixed reviews, with people either strongly disliking it or cheering it on.

Question is, how do you measure the true success of campaigns like these? Is it in the number of likes or YouTube views? Is it in the tangible impact they have on the ground? And, can this kind of initiative drive an unbelievably diverse community of individuals - Latinos - into concrete actions beyond online?

Conversations about so-called "Slactivism" - liking a cause on Facebook or putting a 'Twibbon' on your Twitter avatar -usually center around whether or not this type of online involvement ends at the 'like', or is followed by actions in real life.

Shedding light into this is a 2011 study called The Dynamics of Cause Engagement by Georgetown University's Center for Social Impact Communication, which found that people who frequently engage in promotional social activity are as likely as non-social media promoters to donate, volunteer, and engage civically. Yes, social media adepts want to shape the world around them, have an amazing drive to mobilize, and can certainly do wonders in getting awareness for a cause through their influence.

No news there.

What I found fascinating about the findings is that they also point to the possibility that as we are exposed to messaging about a cause, heightened awareness may lead to an actual change in individual behavior. That, to me, is where this kind of campaign shows the most promise: If we are to a) become more aware of the issues that affect us; b) show public support through social media for civic campaigns, thereby influencing those who follow our messages and c) modify our behavior to match the intentions of the campaign, could that possibly mean that we may become a nation full of civic-minded do-gooders through social media?

For Latinos - generalizations notwithstanding - there's an increasing drive to exercise our civic responsibility as we try to change the policies and legislation that affect us most adversely, and technology is empowering us to do so. As last year's Hispanic Institute's Connected Hispanics and civic engagement study found, a great majority of us have used technology, specifically mobile, to make an impact on three very important areas: Immigration, Education, and Voter Registration.

As a community where levels of civic engagement and acculturation are often tightly interrelated, Latinos offline may have little to no exposure to the nuances or repercussions of certain policies or laws on their everyday lives. Language barriers, lack of connections, limited coverage in Spanish-language news - as well as more pressing priorities, like daily survival - can take precedence over 'lofty' social causes. But what if 'liking' or spreading a message awakens the inner activist in all of us, and we started leading by example in real life? If liking a green initiative online is going to make me more prone to think about recycling and share green-friendly knowledge with my friends offline, isn't that campaigns' effectiveness more than proven?

As the ongoing backlash makes it more and more imperative for Latinos to participate in this country's civic life, the intrinsic value of 'Moving2Maricopa' and similar efforts may have more to do with their ability to help us hold ourselves accountable for sharing, acting upon and following up on causes, on and off line. From that perspective, any and all efforts that can potentially awaken our consciousness and drive us to individual and collective ownership and action over issues, are completely worth it, in my book.

What's your take on online activism? Does it work? Let us know in the comments!