Is Cyberactivism Real Activism?

Today, everyone has a cause. Mine is mothering humanity through carefully constructed sentences of social commentary and contemporary fiction. The latter, you’ll have to wait and read to decide for yourself. The former, however, is under fire. Do words—thrown out into a giant worldwide web that is interwoven with truth and lies daily—really make a difference?

It is a very noisy web.

Let’s take a look.

My first thought when discussing cyberactivists was Vani Hari aka The Food Babe. You might be like, “Come on! Her?” I bet you thought I’d hit some of the harder topics ablaze in the media today, but Hari was one of the first people I heard of to create real change with the use of nothing more than a blog and a relentless and optimistic heart.

Evidence of The Food Babe’s amazing lifestyle change. Photo Graphic Courtesy of FoodBabe.com

According to FoodBabe.com, Hari’s unhealthy lifestyle, which landed her in the hospital, inspired her to make big changes to her diet. She didn’t go to nutrition school to “get healthy.” She simply wielded the power of the Internet. In her switch from processed foods to “real food” she also began to investigate hidden or harmful ingredients in the American food supply. She drastically changed her own life for the better and decided to share her story and her new knowledge online with friends and family, using her platform to speak out against the lack of transparency within the American food industry.

Nearly a decade later, her personal blog has become a powerful change agent, helping to influence multi-billion dollar food giants like Kraft, General Mills, Subway, Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, Starbucks, and more to address the concerns of their consumers and make very real changes to their products.

The Food Babe is a cyberactivist. Her tactics have sometimes come under fire. Her writing has taken serious hits. Her critics are numerous. Her claims can’t always be 100% substantiated by science. And the Food Industry refuses to name her as the catalyst for their product modifications. That still doesn’t change the fact that her blog has lead to real-world awareness and action.

I think Hari was one of the original influencers of social media. She did, after all, garner a spot on TIME’s very first “Most Influential People on the Internet” list, which has now become an annual thing and a coveted label.

The term influencer may induce eye rolling from older generations, but it’s a very real aspiration for a lot of tweens, teens, and twenty-year-olds. Talking to friends the other day, I compared it to my generation’s “I want to play video games professionally.” Basically, the unicorn of job possibilities.

You may still be naysaying, but people get behind faceless causes with little-to-no usefulness all the time. Influencers just personalize an idea by giving it a story.

In my MFA studies this week, old Breast Cancer Awareness memes on Facebook came under scrutiny as being little more than a frivolous bandwagon for quasi-supporters to jump aboard. Facebookers shared and shared again obscure or sexualized, coded messages in the name of “awareness,” but didn’t bother to participate, donate, or educate, according to a case study in the book Strategic Social Media: From Marketing to Social Change. It made me think of the recent “Blackout Tuesday,” which saw millions of people throwing up black squares of solidarity all over social media, but did little to promote real change for the Black Community. To make real change, like The Food Babe, you have to put your money (or resources) where your social media mouth is.

I will, however, argue that awareness is sometimes the first step to social change. Perhaps, when people jump on these somewhat misguided bandwagons, their online demonstration of alliance can be a catalyst for later change. Vani Hari’s efforts have also been criticized as “misguided,” but her bandwagons crashed full-bore into real walls of resistance in the food industry and mac-n-cheese is now a safer, easy weeknight meal option for kids across America.

If you still think cyberactivism isn’t a thing, check out TIME’s “Most Influential People on the Internet” list for 2019. Some of them hurt my peepers, yes, but I could also see Mothering Humanity getting behind the message of more than a few others.

Luv&Hugs,

*Kristine*

Social Networks Feature Photo by Tracy Le Blanc from Pexels

Teen Influencer Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

VisionSpring & Warby Parker: A Clearer Vision

In my studies last week, I came across a non-profit organization that resonated with me as a group leading the type of change the world needs, and it reminded me that I hadn’t done a changemaker profile, since relaunching Mothering Humanity in May. This global social enterprise fits the bill as caring for humanity in a big way. The organization is VisionSpring.

According to VisionSpring’s website, Jordan Kassalow was 23 years old and on a “volunteer medical mission in the Yucatán Peninsula,” when the overwhelming need for eyeglasses for the poor and underprivileged became abundantly clear to him. In 2001, Kassalow founded the organization that later became VisionSpring, and to-date has helped in “changing millions of lives across the globe, one pair of glasses at a time.”

In addition to providing free eye exams, the organization offers ridiculously cheap eyeglasses for people around the globe who wouldn’t normally have access to optical services. As of this year, VisionSpring’s website boasts, “6.8 million glasses sold.” They also work with myriad entities around the globe training women and providing loans for them to start their own businesses providing eye care to their communities.

A decade after its founding, VisionSpring teamed up with the socially conscious company, Warby Parker, a carbon-neutral eyewear company that donates one pair of glasses to the VisionSpring mission for every customer-purchased eyewear.

CNBC offers a great in-depth spotlight on Warbly Parker and its founders Dave Gilboa and Neil Blumenthal.

“We also want Warby Parker to influence the way business is done. If we can demonstrate that we can scale, be profitable, and do good in the world, without charging a premium for that, then hopefully that will influence the way that other executives and entrepreneurs run their businesses.”

-Neil Blumenthal, via interview with Lucy Handley, CSNBC

Although Warby Parker is a for-profit company, they have been hailed by Forbes, Inc.com, and more as a business with a conscience—focusing great attention and energy on their global impact and paving the way for other socially conscious businesses. Warby Parker claims, “Almost one billion people worldwide lack access to glasses, which means that 15% of the world’s population cannot effectively learn or work,” (Disruptor Awards) and they say their company and their partnership with VisionSpring is dedicated to changing that.

In my opinion, Warby Parker stands as a wonderful example of a business that doesn’t put profit over people.

When I first read about their partnership with VisionSpring in my marketing class, they were being hailed as innovators and marketing gurus, having basically invented on-line eyeglass shopping and creating an entire direct-to-consumer, e-commerce business that expertly deployed social media to interact with customers and adjust their business and operations models to fit client wants and needs. Their online engagement with customers via social media was a big factor in making their business a success, and fast.

It’s a marketing class and I’m a creative writing major, so basically what I really heard was, Blah, blah, blah… They care about customers and doing social good on a global level, and you can connect with them on Facebook. For some reason, it also brought the business model of TOMS shoes to mind. Brands that care. Brands that listen. Brands willing to take a chunk of their profits and give back to humanity. Essentially, brands that are changemakers.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise that paying attention to customers’ praise and complaints online and responding appropriately helps shape a successful business—but, apparently, many businesses haven’t caught on to this just yet. It also seems that companies taking social responsibility into account as part of their business model are faring better than others… So, hooray for that.

If Warby Parker is an example of the type of Millennial business—innovative, environmentally aware, customer responsive, and socially conscious—that we can look forward to in the future, then I’ll take my hat off to the generation that butts up against mine. As a matter of fact, I might even warm up to the label, or at least embrace “Xennial” fondly.

If you need a new pair of glasses and you’re trying to practice social distancing responsibly, Warby Parker is perfect. Check out their Facebook page for more info. They also just announced a refocus on “diversity, equity, and inclusivity” and a desire to combat systemic racism as part of their brand and business structure. What’s not to love about this socially woke company?!

According to the CNBC article, Blumenthal actually started under VisionSpring founder, Kassalow, as he built the pilot program that would eventually become VisionSpring, proving that great ideas of philanthropy and social awareness are contagious. Change inspires change!

Check out VisionSpring’s commitment to a better world in other areas such as equal employment (all the way up to their Leadership Team and Board of Directors), empowering women and girls (training women especially to perform eye exams in developing countries), offering women of color paid internship opportunities that include paid-travel for work, and their inspiring vision statement.

NOTE: I don’t receive any sponsorship on this blog whatsoever at this point in time. I’m simply highlighting these two organizations as part of my own learning process and in an effort to bring awareness to people who are putting humanity first and paving the way to a world in which I’d be happy to raise my children.

Luv&Hugs,

*Kristine*

Featured image courtesy of Binti Malu via Pexels.com

Millenial/Xennial image courtesy of Ketut Subiyanto via Pexels.com