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Unmasking Effective Social Media Advocacy

Social media advocacy has revolutionized the sphere of activism. Critically, during the coronavirus era, the primary means of contact between communities is the digital realm. However, advocacy initiatives on social media must be delicately handled. They must provide information from validated and reputed resources, instead of promoting vague commitments to allyhood.

Over the past several weeks, the mass public health emergency has led to stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures that have created unforeseen consequences for victims of domestic violence. Staying in quarantine with an abuser traps the victim in a hostile environment with few means of escape. As shelters across the country face new financial and spatial constraints, survivors are finding it increasingly difficult to leave threatening environments.

Abusers often threaten victims by leveraging COVID-19. If victims leave their quarantine environment, abusers claim to be more likely to contract the disease. Victims are less likely to go to hospitals when they are physically abused because of fear of contracting the disease.This leaves survivors with little to no mobility. Computers and phones that once served as a way for survivors to get help are now consistently monitored and examined by abusers who have 24-7 access. The once-robust system of touchpoints that existed to identify and help support victims are now becoming inaccessible and impractical.

A Facebook campaign recently emerged, aiming to help victims covertly communicate their current situations to members of their online community. By asking victims to message about “buying face masks,” this campaign’s strategy avoids the digital footprint that might harm survivors if they explicitly seek help online.

Critically, resources for both survivors and allies are left without mention in these posts. It is concerning to assume that merely resharing a post equips someone to handle critical issues of assisting victims of gender-based violence. Social media bystanders should educate themselves with resources from the National Crisis Response Hotline so that they understand the critical issues of allyship and safely navigate a survivor to the appropriate destinations for help.

Further, there is a critical lack of data about the ground-level situation for victims of domestic violence. Active and educated bystanders may help fill this data gap by filling out the citizen survey, a research initiative spearheaded by the Harvard-Cambridge Task Force on Domestic Violence. With a foundation in both qualitative and quantitative research, social media activism can inspire policy change.

We believe that such advocacy has large-scale potential to raise awareness and meet victims where they have access. To this end, we recommend a modified version of the social media advocacy post:

“If you are stuck in quarantine with an abusive co-habitator, message me about my homemade facemasks (I don’t have any) and I will know to check on you regularly. If you ask me about BUYING my facemasks (I don’t sell any) and include a shipping address, I will know to call the police. There has been an increase in domestic violence since quarantine, and I am here to help.

If other allies would like to reshare this post to help spread the word, COMPLETE this checklist before doing so. Bystanders need proper resources too.”

Effective advocacy has the potential to make a significant impact. We hope that citizen efforts will continue to support victims of domestic violence despite the constraints of these trying times. We need to confront both pandemics at the same time: supporting our survivors in the era of COVID-19.

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