Research Proposal

My proposed research project is one that has been changed too many times, however, I have decided to settle on my initial topic of choice, ‘Social Media Activism.’ With recent global events and ones that have transpired over the last couple of months, I believe it is a fitting topic to not only quench my curiosity but also better understand the changing digital landscape with respect to activism.

Living in a society consumed by social media and everything it entails we are essentially living life through screens and inextricably linked is our need for speech and expression. We have seen the power social media holds in delivering news but what is often overlooked is the power held in the means of the social media, for example, the hashtag. Research suggests that the use of the hashtag has become synonymous with trends and discussion on social media. The ability for hashtags to create social engagement and extend beyond any kind of boundary is suggestive of its influence. It has given people the power to call out injustices, inaccuracies and misrepresentations and bring about political and social change (Khan-Ibarra, 2014). And the hashtag is just one key feature that these major social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) have adopted. With social media becoming increasingly ubiquitous in nature the research question I endeavor to answer is Why University students engage in social activism via their social media accounts, specifically Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and the effect of this.

From the preliminary studies, I have found there have been specific examples where social media activism has prevailed. The #Kony2012 case is one of the earliest and most monumental instances where a film produced by the advocacy group ‘Invisible children’ reached mass attention. 5 million tweets in the week following the release, 100 million views in the first 6 days and more than a billion shares on Facebook, making it the fastest video ever to reach this target (Kanczula, 2012).

Similarly, the 2015 ruling of same-sex marriage was another example showing the backing of social media in facilitating and supporting activism. Twitter showed its support through the hashtag #lovewins which received more than 284,000 tweets within the hour while Facebook made its own rainbow filter for profile pictures, which was enacted by 26 million people (Feldmann, 2016, p.173). And not to neglect the most recent cases of social activism #PrayforParis and as of a couple of days ago #PrayforBrussels. The abundant of examples of social justice issues that have garnered mass attention and a following on social media suggest that there is something worthwhile in this reportage and I plan on finding out why it is that individuals are engaging with such vast social/political issues on social media and what this means in regards to contribution.

In terms of primary research, I intend on using qualitative research methods in the form of a survey and a focus group, both of which will incorporate open-ended questions. This will help yield a narrower focus on university students’ personal experiences with social media activism; the why; the effect; and the contribution. I also intend on exploring the criticisms that come with social media activism, which is a dominant notion in this area of study. With the number of studies that support social media activism comes a number of studies that also refute it, thus we have a new notion Slacktivism. I plan on further exploring this and using secondary information to help consolidate my findings.


Feldmann, D, 2016, Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, John Wiley & Sons, Canada

Kanczula, A, 2012, ‘Kony 2012 in numbers’, The Guardian, viewed 25th May 2016,

Khan-Ibarra, S, 2014, ‘The Case of Social Media and Hashtag Activism’, The Huffington Post, viewed 25th May 2016,