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#Evolution Or Revolution: Exploring Social Media through Revelations of Similitude*

December 12, 2016

Kimberly Edwards-Underwood, Ph.D.



Intended Audience: High School

Overview: This lesson focuses on the use of social networking websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, as an instrument to support the development of social responsibility and citizenship in culturally diverse environments. Students will explore current events within the context of discussions on social networking sites and explore the constructive use of these sites as conduits for social justice and reform.

National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) Standards:           

Culture and Cultural Diversity

Teacher Expectations:

  • have learners interpret patterns of behavior as reflecting values and attitudes, which contribute to or pose obstacles to cross-cultural understanding
  • have learners explain and apply ideas, theories, and modes of inquiry drawn from anthropology and sociology in the examination of persistent issues and social problems.

Individual Development and Identity

Teacher Expectations:

  • guide learners as they analyze the interactions among ethical, ethnic, national, and cultural factors in specific situations;
  • have learners compare and evaluate the impact of stereotyping, conformity, acts of altruism, discrimination, and other behaviors on individuals and groups;
  • assist learners as they work independently and cooperatively within groups and institutions to accomplish goals.

Civic Ideals and Practices

Teacher Expectations:

  • guide learner efforts to identify, analyze, interpret, and evaluate sources and examples of citizens’ rights and responsibilities;
  • facilitate learner efforts to locate, access, analyze, organize, synthesize, evaluate, and apply information about selected public issues—identifying, describing, and evaluating multiple points of view and taking reasoned positions on such issues;
  • provide opportunities for learners to practice forms of civic discussion and participation consistent with the ideals of citizens in a democratic republic.

National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Standards:

  • Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and non-print texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

Lesson Plan:

Students should be able to:

  • identify behaviors and attributes that contribute to positive communication environments on social networking sites;
  • develop civic ideals and practices that support cultural diversity and inclusion; and
  • identify acceptable manners in which to use social networking sites for advancing social justice.


  • Students should prepare for class by reading the article: “#Evolution or Revolution: Exploring Social Media through Revelations of Similitude” by Kimberly Edwards-Underwood.
  • Ask students if they use social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. Ask students how they use social networking within their personal lives. Reference the article and have students reflect on their thoughts about the preparatory reading.
  • Tell students that they are charged within creating a new social networking site (imaginary) called Friendrist. The goal of Friendrist is to create an atmosphere where all are respected and included. Have students to individually create their own individual profile for the new social networking site. Ask students to reflect on areas where inclusion may not occur on other social networking sites.
  • Students should collaborate to create the “rules of engagement” in their new social networking site. Have them create a list of “rules” that allow for intellectual discussion, respect and inclusion. Have them further identify behaviors that would allow one to administratively be removed from the site. Have them discuss how this activity could guide the way they interact with others in the future in social networking sites.


  • Students will write a personal reflection describing how they feel their profile best identifies them as a diverse individual.
  • Students should be able to effectively identify acceptable behaviors for respect and inclusion within the site.
  • Students should be able to identify the “unacceptable”behaviors that will cause an individual to be removed from their list of participants on their site.

Background Information

Their stories are regrettably familiar: the shooting of unarmed Michael Brown by a white Ferguson, Missouri police officer; the choking death of Eric Garner by a New York police officer stemming from the allegation of selling single cigarettes; and the shooting of 12-year old Tamir Rice, who was shot by a Cleveland, Ohio police officer for playing with a toy gun in a park. Undeniably, these incidents have allowed social media to firmly solidify its place in mainstream media. Within social media platforms, amidst the constant stream of photos and messages from around the world, powerful symbols are emerging of the current unrest within the United States. “Hands up, don’t shoot,” “Black lives matter,” and “I can’t breathe” have become the newest rallying calls around the long-standing issues of racial inequality, racial profiling and racial discrimination. Moreover, posts on social media sites have challenged members to move past reactionary commentary to actions for mobilization and advocacy.

Currently, society has embraced the usage of social media as a primary tool for communication, especially within communities of color. For instance, social networking has assisted in closing the technology gap between African Americans and whites in this country. Although the digital divide still exists when considering Internet usage, African Americans are on more equitable footing when it comes to social networking, with 73% of African Americans-in comparison with 72% of whites- actively using social networking sites. As more voices of color are represented within these forums amidst current affairs, emerging resemblances to movements of the past have surfaced, interspersed with influences of modern-day technology.

Substantiated by both the history and current state of this country, the obstinate foundations of stratification and racialization continue to fuel a cyclical, pestilent succession of social ills. Within this current period of civil unrest, social networking has undoubtedly provided a highly sophisticated contrivance for disseminating information efficiently to large audiences, often times more rapidly than traditional media outlets. Today, social media has emerged as the conduit for many of the conversations echoing the sentiments of movements past. Not forgotten are the days of meetings within churches, such as the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, which served as a rallying point for civil rights activities and focal conversations during the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement and was subsequentially bombed. Similarly, social media remains ablaze with cries for justice in the recurring instances of police shootings involving people of color. For instance, immediately following the Michael Brown shooting, within a nine-day period, there were over 7.8 million tweets citing #Ferguson. Subsequently, after the release of the grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer in this case, over 3.5 million tweets trended within a three-hour span and sparked a wave of unrest and a call for mobilization and action across the country.

Similar to the Civil Rights Movement, these types of conversations within social media platforms are often met with opposition. Although social networking platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, were initially designed for networking and socialization, often times interactions within these sites are not always affirmative in content. In truth, many of the social ills within our society are often reflected within the messages found on these sites. In a Pew Report surveying close to 3,000 social media users, although almost half of participants have experienced some form of harassment online, people of color are more likely than their white counterparts to be harassed in a social media forum. As one participant noted, “They get pretty ignorant. Racism, discrimination, generalization, you name it… I’ve seen it.”

Anonymity remains a constant in the struggle for racial equality and fair treatment. Within the confines of social media platforms, faces of hate no longer have to hide behind the white sheets of movements past. Instead antagonistic hate speech is found within several social media sites, addressing a wide range of topics, and clearly veiled by the obscurity of falsified user names and identities. One study participant best summarizes this dynamic by noting, “People regularly insult others on the internet far more freely than in personal situations because of the anonymity involved. People wouldn’t regularly insult others for such minor things, but on the internet there are seldom consequences, and people take advantage of this.”

Regrettably, some communications on social media sites have been characterized as microassaults. According to Sue et al.,

“A microassault is an explicit racial derogation characterized primarily by a verbal or nonverbal attack meant to hurt the intended victim through name-calling, avoidant behavior, or purposeful discriminatory actions… Microassaults are most similar to what has been called “old fashioned” racism conducted on an individual level. They are most likely to be conscious and deliberate, although they are generally expressed in limited “private” situations (micro) that allow the perpetrator some degree of anonymity.”

Social media allows for the modification of this definition, as anonymity is afforded to many in public to semi-public platforms without the fear of being exposed. However, in these instances, an exploration of social media can be useful in providing a larger and more candid representative sample to gain a clearer reflection of the current racial pulse of society.

Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr have been used to support recent organizing efforts for collective actions across the country and the world. Users of these social networking sites have been able to quickly post meeting sites and call for the collection of donations and supplies to support protesters within numerous cities. When news surfaced that the grand jury chose not to indict the white police officer involved in the videotaped choking of Eric Garner, protests erupted in cities across the country within a matter of hours. Additionally, social media sites have allowed organizers across the country to collaborate in a state of solidarity around a large-scale issue. For instance, a Facebook page, The Cleveland Ferguson Stance, invited over 5,000 participants from Ferguson, Missouri and Cleveland, Ohio to mobilize around the existing overarching issue of police violence against people of color.

Social media clearly plays a significant role within socialization, mobilization and the mass dissemination of ideas. As a society, we have evolved in the modes used for social communications through the sophisticated technology of modern-day social networking platforms. Nevertheless, sentiments of inequality and messages of hate remain dissonantly familiar to past experiences etched into the foundation of this country. Since the inception of social media platforms, the ability of social media to foster a revolution of sorts has always been questioned. It may be too soon to note the long term impact of social media on recent events. Yet, a renewed sense of self-efficacy and a heightened awareness of these incidents that has spiraled into an increased call for action may just be the revolutionary spark needed moving forward towards social justice.

Teacher Resources

Paolo Gerbaudo. Tweets and the streets: Social media and contemporary activism. Pluto Press, 2012.

Amanda Lenhart, Kristen Purcell, Aaron Smith, and Kathryn Zickuhr. “Social Media & Mobile Internet Use among Teens and Young Adults. Millennials,” Pew Internet & American Life Project (2010).

Jose Van Dijck, The culture of connectivity: A critical history of social media. Oxford University Press, 2013.

Additional Resources


Skype Education




*The lesson plan and essay were originally published in the Association for the Study of African American Life and History’s Black History Bulletin, v77, (2). It is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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