Has coronavirus changed activism forever?

This week, Reddit users caused chaos when they bought up stocks in Gamestop and caused Wall street traders to lose billions. Throughout the last year, there has been a rise in collective activism online, as traditional ways to protest have become unsafe as a result of the coronavirus. As many of these protests have been very successful, will we ever go back to traditional protesting or has coronavirus changed activism forever? 

Trump and TikTok

The first notable form of online activism during the coronavirus pandemic was in early June. Over the course of the first few months of lockdown, TikTok became a sensation and saw its membership rise dramatically. The app reached 12.9 million UK adult visitors in April up from just 5.4 million in January. TikTok started out as a fun way for people to share stories, dances, lip-syncing clips, and comedic videos. However, as its membership grew, it began to become more political and educational.

In June, users of the app worked together in their thousands to troll Donald Trump. A large number of people signed up for tickets to a particular election rally without any intention of actually showing up. Trump and his team had previously boasted that they would fill the 19,000 seat BOK centre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but, on the day, there were only around 6,200 supporters there. Tiktok users claimed responsibility, and the story made news across the world. A month later, Trump attempted to ban TikTok, which some believe was a direct retaliation to the incident in June.


Donald Tump’s rally, BOK centre, Tulsa.

Black Lives Matter

Affter the brutal murder of George Floyd by four police officers in Minneapolis in May, there was an outpouring of  anger and outrage across the world. Millions of people took to the streets across the world to protest against racial inequality and show support for the Black Lives Matter movement. However, as the coronavirus pandemic was still raging on, a lot of activism relating to the movement took place online.

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Black Lives Matter march, NYC.

Across social media platforms, such as Tiktok, Instagram, and Twitter, people began to educate others on racial inequalities and what they could do to help. For example, a week after George Floyd was killed, one user tweeted asking that people donate to the nonprofit, Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, as a way to support the demonstrations that were taking place against racial inequality in America. The tweet was shared throughout Twitter, and, within 24 hours, more than 50,000 individuals had donated $1.8 million to support the fund.

Another notable moment of online activism in relation to the murder of George Floyd came in early June, when 28 million people posted a black square on Instagram as a sign of support for the protests. The social media blackout was accompanied by the hashtag #blackouttuesday and was meant to show support for protests against racial inequality and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Throughout the summer, users on all social media platforms reshared information on racial inequality and helped educate others on the issue. Users suggested different charities to donate to, petitions to sign, and black-owned businesses to buy from. The movement was massive across social media and kept at the forefront of all social platforms for a number of months.


In the most recent show of online activism, Reddit users worked together to unexpectedly buy a large number of shares from Gamestop, causing Wall Street traders to lose billions. This plan was organised through the online platform, Reddit, and conducted completely online. The organisers and participants in the ploy managed to cause a massive upset, resulting in traders losing billions and gaining widespread media attention, all from behind their computer screens. 

This signifies a massive shift in how protests can now take place completely online and also be incredibly effective. There has been widespread praise and condemnation for the act, with some of the most senior traders and government officials taking notice. The incident has also started a massive debate on the regulations surrounding Wall Street trading, possibly changing them forever.

Online activism before the pandemic

Online activism is nothing new. Since the beginning of social media people have used online platforms as a way of protesting. One of the first and most notorious examples was in 2010, when the  Occupy Wall Street movement  took place. The movement was mainly protesting class inequality, corruption, and greed. Through different websites, articles, and blogs online, the movement began to gain followers and receive attention. The first protest had over 1,000 members and over the coming months that number reached its peak at over 30,000. Over the span of four years thousands of people took part in a number of marches and protests against consumerism and greed. 

Although the recent Reddit movement may seem similar to this, the key difference is how activists used online platforms. In the case of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, people used social media to mobilize protests on the streets. However, in the case of Gamestop, Trump’s rally and the Black Lives Matter movement people protested and quite successfully got their point across, causing disruption from their own home, without having to physically take to the streets. This trend has been quite apparent since the beginning of the pandemic. So, has the coronavirus changed activism forever?

Has coronavirus changed activism forever?

Coronavirus has undoubtedly changed the way we do a lot of things, including how we protest. There is a newfound appreciation for digital activism and how protests online can do a similar, if not better, job than protests in the streets.

Social media is no longer being used simply as a tool to mobilize crowds onto the streets, but as a way to take down oppressive forces through education and digital activism. Although there is no doubt that physical marches and protests in the streets will still take place, I believe we are now experiencing a massive turn towards online activism, more than ever before. As this form of protesting has proved to be so effective in recent months, coronavirus may well have changed activism forever. 

Aoife McDowell
Aoife McDowell

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