Climate Change. Inclusivity. Mental Health.

These are some of the causes that Singaporeans today are speaking out on. And social media has been a powerful platform in helping to raise awareness of these issues.

Many of us remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge in 2015 where celebrities and non-celebrities alike dumped a bucket of ice water over themselves to spread awareness and raise funds for the ALS Association (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

More recently, following the death of George Floyd, people all over the world flooded Instagram with symbolic black squares in support of #BlackOutTuesday – an initiative to go silent on social media, reflect on recent events, and stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

Though the campaign quickly went viral, it drew criticism as the flood of posts – shared under the BLM hashtag – prevented people who wanted to help from accessing vital information and resources.

While social media has helped spread awareness and brought people together on a global scale, it has given rise to concerns of “slacktivism”, or “clicktivism”, where people support a cause at the click of a mouse but little effort otherwise.

Spreading a hashtag is a good start but we must not allow it to simply blow smoke around important issues, or worse, satisfy our motivation to take action without actually having any real impact.

We should not sit quietly when injustice prevails. But giving of yourself to a cause needs sacrifice for it to truly resonate. Whether it is giving your money, time or even mustering the courage to speak up, it should cost you something, because that is where real change begins.

Supporting a cause should go beyond spreading a hashtag.

Inspiring change

In order to make real change, first, you need to know why you are participating. Do you truly believe in the cause you are supporting, or are you doing it because everyone else is doing so?

Second, do your research. Find out the various movements and organisations you can volunteer at and donate to, so that you can also share this knowledge and with others who want to help. Attend events (offline or online) to learn more and connect with like-minded people.

Last and most importantly, take action. There are many creative ways you can do so – you could break a sweat to raise funds for charity, reduce your family’s carbon footprint, create art to raise awareness and spark dialogue, and even start your own ground-up movement!

Last year, NUS student Monica Baey started a national conversation on sexual harrassment by coming forward with her story of being filmed in the shower by a fellow student. In the wake of her stepping forward, changes were made to how universities in Singapore handled such sexual misconduct cases.

Nominated Member of Parliament Anthea Ong said in a speech on 7 Oct 2019: “Let us not underestimate the value of our youth speaking up and taking action to make change. For example, during the NUS’ controversy on sexual harassment, it was the courage and advocacy of youth that resulted in real policy reforms.

“If not for Monica Baey’s courage to call out injustice, if not for the many students who pushed for a town hall, if not for the 400 students who turned up to confront their university administrators, it is unlikely that we would have seen change.”

Monica Baey raise awareness on sexual harrassment
Image Credit: AWARE / Baey on the panel at AWARE’s Taking Ctrl 2019 as an advocate for sexual violence survivors and recipient of AWARE’s “Woman of Courage” Award 2019.

Another young Singaporean who has spoken up for change is Emily Teng. She has been quietly and diligently supporting underprivileged youth for more than ten years and founded Blessings in a Bag, where students are encouraged to thrive with compassion, resilience, and reach their full potential. Its programmes have gone online due to Covid-19 restrictions.

And just two weeks ago, Adila Shahrin, 25, set out to change what little awareness of information was available on racial issues in Singapore by crowd-sourcing and pulling together more than 100 articles, books, and social media accounts into a public index titled “Resource Bank: Race Relations in Singapore”.

Making it available to the public to expand their knowledge on the topic, Shahrin wrote on Instagram: “It is important for all of us to educate ourselves and to continue establishing (safe) spaces to have conversations about the realities of race relations in Singapore.”

Social media is just the start

We don’t need to take to the streets or astound audiences with powerful speeches in order to make change. Social media has given each one of us a voice to speak out on things we care about. But that’s just the start.

When we post a hashtag, we spark conversation. Let conversation inspire action to make change in the world.

American writer Steve Maraboli said: “With one kind gesture you can change a life. One person at a time you can change the world.”

We can be the change we want to see in the world.

Even if it’s spending an afternoon every week with underprivileged children. Even if it is creating art to help others see from a new perspective. Even if it is as simple as standing in solidarity with our fellow brothers and sisters and telling them, “I see you”.

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