How has social media mobilized groups of people for sociopolitical change?

Protesters hold a sign that reads "ACT NOW CLIMATE CRISIS"

The COP26 Weymouth Rally and Demonstration on the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice, organized by the COP26 Coalition Dorset Hub (Stephen and Helen Jones/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0 ))

How has social media mobilized groups of people for sociopolitical change? 

I sat down with Gregor Sharp, an 18-year-old climate activist, to discuss.

Podcast Transcript:

Kaitlyn Copland 0:05

During recent years, it seems that an increasing number of social movements have improved their ability to organize and mobilize people around a cause. Why? The globe is more connected than ever through social media. 

Movements have harnessed the media's power to revolutionize the spread of information about social change all across the world. One relevant example is the COP26 Coalition, which is a UK based civil society coalition of groups, grassroots movements, trade unions and racial justice networks. 

Activists from the COP26 Coalition converged upon Glasgow to protest the COP26 climate summit that ran for two weeks in the fall of 2021. While world leaders revisited the Paris Climate Accords to create the Glasgow Climate Pact, protesters from different countries and movements united under the COP26 Coalition to march in solidarity through the soggy streets demanding more immediate climate solutions. 

I had the opportunity to sit down with one of the activists present at COP26. Gregor Sharp is an 18 year old climate change activist who is a content creator for Friday's for Future. We discussed how social media mobilizes organizations and increases connectivity as demonstrated through the COP26 Coalition.

The following dialogue is our conversation which has been edited for clarity and length.

Gregor Sharp 1:31

Hi, my name is Gregor Sharp. I'm an 18 year old climate activist from Lake Bluff, Illinois. I'm a social media contributor for Fridays for Future and Earth Uprising. I got involved in climate change around 2018 when I first discovered it when I was learning about it in middle school. And then from that I reached out and branched off to different organizations and kind of got myself involved more and more and here I am today. 

Kaitlyn Copland 1:56

Perfect! I want to discuss with you Fridays for Future in regards to their history. What are their purposes? What’s their goals and why is this all important? 

Gregor Sharp 2:05

Fridays for Future was founded in August 2018 by then not really popular climate activist Greta Thunburg who had been striking outside of the Swedish parliament every Friday. She decided that she would continue to be striking every Friday and she created the Fridays for Future movement, which then eventually branched off to different countries around the world where students and young people would strike in front of the parliaments, the White Houses, the presidential houses and the legislature houses around the world and in different cities and states and everywhere, basically. It started off with one person and it’s eventually grown to its largest at 4.3 million. 

Kaitlyn Copland 2:56

How has social media played a role in the visibility and reach of your demands and additionally, how is it increased connectivity for Fridays for Future branches across the world? 

Gregor Sharp 3:06

Okay. So social media is a really big factor in sharing information. It's been scientifically proven time and time again that it's [social media] been one of the greatest ways of scientific movements and scientific information sharing throughout these past couple years, even though it does have a massive amount of misinformation problems. 

But overall within the climate movement, as a whole, we're able to reach audiences and other people who may have not really heard about climate change. 

Kaitlyn Copland 03:38

Could you also talk a little more on the shortcomings of social media in regards to this movement? 

Gregor Sharp 03:46

Some shortcomings with our environmental movement are with conservative groups and other Republican, right wing political groups. They do denounce Fridays for Future and say that we are prompting misinformation towards environmental sciences and other sciences as a whole. That shuts off our outreach programs to the majority of the far right groups around the world as they do not want to listen to us and they don't believe that climate change is real.

Political leaders who want to profit off of fossil fuel companies and other companies that are basically prospering from climate injustice and environmental deregulations are generally some of the reasons why we haven't been able to do as much as we possibly can. We keep on getting blocked by different organizations and companies, because they want to focus on their own capitalistic profit.

Kaitlyn Copland 04:41

Would you say that you use social media to try to target these organizations? 

Gregor Sharp 04:57

Yeah, we definitely do target these groups time and time again. We specifically called Chase Bank out before COP26 happened because of their massive involvement within COP26. They do massively fund fossil fuel companies. And that kind of greenwashing, as we would say, definitely does not, in fact, help the environmental groups and youth movements around the world as a whole because it seems like they're just profiting off of a name that they are sustainable and doing stuff. They're also supporting the organizations, companies and the fossil fuel organizations which have been basically polluting and damaging our world. 

Kaitlyn Copland 05:40

I want to move on to discussing the COP26 Coalition. I know Fridays for Future is a part of it. I'm really interested to know how the Coalition was formed, especially if it involves social media. 

Gregor Sharp 05:54

The COP26 Coalition was majorly formed right around the beginnings of when COP26 was birthed. Especially with Mock COP, where a few delegates met online and established their doctrine that they really wanted to get passed within COP. That engagement with other youth environmental organizations and environmental organizations as a whole eventually led to the formation of the COP26 Coalition. That’s just a coalition of environmental and climate organizations that wanted to work together to ensure that we get climate action done and climate action in the COP26 agreement that eventually came out. I think it's called the Glasgow Accord. It does include a little bit of climate change action.

Kaitlyn Copland 06:42

Just to recap, when the COP 26 Coalition was forming, all of these groups that formed it, connected with each other through social media, and it was like, yes, let's do it? 

Gregor Sharp 06:57

We mostly connected through social media, but other people knew each other in person from former experiences with other COPs, and just meeting in general in real life. That kind of connection via social media and also real life, interjected and created the COP 26 Coalition.

Kaitlyn Copland 07:15

Awesome. During the summit when you were protesting, did social media increase connectivity between the organizations? Was Fridays for Future able to gain new partnerships and allies?

Gregor Sharp 07:29

Yes, absolutely. We definitely gained more partnerships and allies as the Fridays for Future international group as a whole. Generally, because of the fact that most of the events that we were attending were live streamed, they were broadcasted on every single major news network around the world. Basically, as you can see on the first Friday, the major major strike that happened in Glasgow that we saw that definitely happening, where our coalition definitely got the word out and definitely was able to form a big coalition to get the news groups around the world to broadcast this kind of event. It's major to see around 1.2 million people protesting within the streets of a 500,000 populated city.

Kaitlyn Copland 08:16

I was going to ask you about, like the visibility and reach of the protests at the summit. Were you and the entire coalition, were they effectively able to create high visibility and reach of the protests?

Gregor Sharp 08:36

I would say definitely, like I said, we got 1.2 million people to protest in a city which only has a population of 500,000, which is absolutely incredible. That's about double the population. So I definitely agree with social media and other forms of connections outside of social media, working amazingly to get the word out to other individuals who lived around the UK and European area, and also who flew in as climate delegates and other delegates, to COP26 to spread the word of taking climate action now and doing something. 

Kaitlyn Copland 09:13

That's impressive. Could you speak a little about your personal experience, on the ground at Glasgow? 

Gregor Sharp 09:20

It was really amazing. I got to meet a ton of incredible climate activists and engage in social media myself. After the first major strike, we were able to witness around 28 speakers, youth activist speakers, mostly, even from MAPA related countries and BIPOC communities speak up about their experiences with climate change as a whole. We were able to rally a lot of people towards climate action during that day. And it was generally something that I really enjoyed. I was down on the streets protesting myself. I got to meet a ton of incredible climate activists and people who generally supported the idea for climate action around the world.

And it was just generally one of those experiences where I will never forget it because it was such a positive experience as a whole because everyone was there for positive reasons because they wanted to support this movement as a whole.

Kaitlyn Copland 10:23

That's really exciting. Do you have any final thoughts on how social media influences social political movements overall? 

Gregor Sharp 10:30

Yeah, social media does definitely in today’s world affect political movements as a whole because everyone's really connected now. As we can say with online social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat, all those different apps and getting the word out for those different apps and different social media platforms, really generally does benefit the climate movement and other movements as a whole. It's basically become like a revolution because social media has become such an influential factor in people's lives today, that we generally didn't realize that until about like eight years ago, because there was no social media back then. The general expansion of social media, and generally increasing our social media as a whole has definitely basically affected the world for the worst and for better.

Kaitlyn Copland 11:26

Awesome! Thank you so much for your time. 

Gregor Sharp 11:28

Thank you so much!

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