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Social Media: An Effective Tool for Shaping Social Policy?

We’re all aware of social media’s value as a vehicle to entertain, connect, educate, and sometimes even to mislead people — case in point, findings of false news reports circulated via Facebook by Russians seeking to influence the U.S. presidential election. But does social media have the power to influence domestic policy? The demographic group collectively known as the Dreamers certainly hopes so.

Dreamers, of course, comprise immigrants brought to the United States illegally, before 2007, when they were children. One of the cornerstones of Donald Trump’s campaign was a promise to rescind former President Obama’s legislation called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which allows these individuals to legally stay in the United States.

Heading the charge to help the dreamers are tech giants including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Apple CEO Tim Cook. They’re donating money toward the cause and they’re leveraging their social media influence to turn the tide of public opinion. Zuckerberg, for example, has posted multiple times urging his millions of Facebook followers to petition congress to protect DACA and the dreamers. In September, he also took to Facebook Live to protest Trump’s DACA stance and share the stories of three immigrants whose lives hang in the balance as they await the final decision. Because it’s pervasive, immediate, and far-reaching, social media has powerful potential to capture the attention of millions who, otherwise, wouldn’t be driven to be politically active.

Social media already has been instrumental in affecting tangible social change. For example, consider #GivingTuesday. This social media initiative began in 2012 as a way to capitalize on the excitement of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but to do so to impact social change by donating to causes and organizations they believe in, and that depend on donations to fulfill their missions. DACA is the latest high-profile cause to be championed via social media by people seeking to affect change. It certainly won’t be the last, as social media’s reach continues to grow.


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