7 Questions on Social Media Activism with Erick Sanchez
The Power of Social Media Activism
Erick Sanchez has successfully orchestrated multiple online campaigns from convincing Chef José Andrés to pull out of the Trump International Hotel, to organizing a rally for Comet Ping Pong, a pizza place under attack from the far-right. His social media activism and previous involvement in politics has led him into his current position as the spokesperson for former presidential candidate Andrew Yang and his wife, Evelyn Yang. He is also the co-founder of a communications and digital firm called United Public Affairs. Here is our 7-question interview with Erick:
1. What has been your favorite online campaign you’ve done?
Launching the petition to support Chef Andrés in the eventual decision to pull out of the Trump hotel was definitely the one that meant the most.
After my comical Kickstarter to get Kenny Loggins to perform in my living room, my friends encouraged me to harness my capabilities for the betterment of humanity. Of course, I wasn’t sure when the opportunity would present itself, but then Donald Trump decided to run for president. I found his announcement repugnant and his racist viewpoints on Mexicans, in particular, enraged me. The cause was clear, and understanding how much his properties mean to him, I was ready to hit him where it hurt most while also ensuring that we uplifted Chef Andrés for the inspiring figure that he is and continues to be.
I was very careful in the language of my petition so it didn’t appear to indicate a protest of Chef Andrés, but that his narrative didn’t line up with a man who considered Mexican immigrants to be nothing but murderers and rapists, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
As a Mexican American and son of an immigrant myself, the campaign was personal. This is something I always advise folks who wish to organize either physically or online- the cause should hit home if you wish to be a validator. It was a key point of interest as I navigated local media to discuss my petition and it was clear in the e-mails that were penned by the Trump Foundation that they were concerned the Latinx community would organize against the Trump/Andrés deal. They were right.
2. What makes someone a social media activist?
I think an effective social media activism is when activists can organize their online networks and create echo chambers for change. Whether that’s in the form of a petition, a fundraising drive for a non-profit or a hashtag to consolidate the conversation around a cause, anyone has the capability to be a social media activist.
These days, in the insane reality of our country, it appears we all have become involved in social media activism, which I think it a great thing. For the first time, I’ve had friends and family that never had any interest in politics reach out to me to express their distaste in the current state of our country’s leadership, or lack thereof. If you want to consider it a positive outcome, at the very least, Donald Trump has been terrible enough to awake those who didn’t feel like they had stake in our government.
3. How can social media activists prevent the spread of misinformation?
The Golden Rule? Check your sources. It’s so easy to retweet something that appears believable, whether it’s a doctored photo or what appears to be an excerpt of a news article. It can be tough at times to identify false information and I’ve even seen journalists fall for the trick sometimes.
I generally look toward myth busting resources like Reuters Fact Check or Snopes when I spot something that looks awry and will engage with significant amplifiers to make sure they know the content they’ve shared is inaccurate. It’s not a perfect system by any means, but it’s better than letting your friends share content probably created by someone’s crazy uncle.
4. How do you think social media and social media activism have elevated social justice movements?
It’s a double-edged sword. While social media has certainly offered a gift to social justice movements, just like any good thing, bad actors will eventually corrupt it. The Yang campaign certainly had a task at hand when the alt-right decided that Andrew was their candidate of choice. Thankfully, we had a world-class digital operation that quickly disavowed and pushed away their community from engaging with our campaign in any fashion.
While social media helps organize physical events like the George Floyd protests, they’ve also opened the doors for protests like the violent one in Charlottesville. I think what we’ll see in the next few years is more pressure from Congress on Big Tech to be more accountable when it comes to bad actors, and I think it’ll be incumbent for these companies to respond in a way that protects the First Amendment but keeps our communities safe.
5. How do you suggest folks handle the inevitable backlash that comes with social media activism?
Backlash happens. I’ve certainly been a victim of trolls and bad actors, especially after organizing on behalf of Comet Ping Pong Pizza and the adjacent businesses. I’ve had my name interspersed in the absolutely absurd Pizzagate conspiracy, and I’ve seen conspiracy theorists claim that I’m paid by the Clintons to cover up their actions. If they knew better, they would know the Clintons could hire a way better communicator than me.
Now, the harder pill to swallow is when the backlash comes from assumed allies. In that event, I think it’s important to engage offline and get a better understanding of why your activism is unwelcome. I, thankfully, haven’t experienced this but I’ve seen others that have. We’re human and imperfect at times, but for the most part we are compassionate and willing to evolve. Sometimes that takes a difficult conversation, but all of our heroes have had to have them at times, and certainly the whole point of activism is to be as inclusive as possible. Don’t get angry, get educated.
6. Voters and advocates are inundated with information; how do you use social media to effectively break through the digital noise?
Social media has now been around for almost two decades and in that time, we’ve consciously and subconsciously configured our networks to suit our own beliefs. Certainly, all of us have unfriended or blocked a friend or relative who spreads misinformation or takes unpopular political stances. On that person’s end, they’ve also been doing the same, so we’ve all curated our networks to the point where we’re mostly seeing what we’d like to see.
I generally like to amplify content I think matters most for the people in my network while also offering humanity. Social media is one of the biggest contributors of depression, anxiety, and even the rise of suicide. It’s on every single one of us to understand that as much as we need to impact change, we have to do so with empathy in mind. Whether it’s a picture of my dog or a dad joke, it’s important to break through the punditry and offer levity to be truly effective.
7. What is your advice to up and coming activists who are looking to use social media activism as an advocacy tool?
Be a true validator by having ownership of the cause you’re seeking to champion. Everyone wants to bring positive impact to the world, but we don’t all have to rush to lead. It’s okay to follow the lead of someone who’s already put the work into action, learn from their successes and their shortcomings, and keep that in mind when you are ready to raise your megaphone.
Bonus: What are some digital activists that you follow on social media? Why?
Over the course of the Yang campaign in particular, I was fortunate to meet some pretty incredible activists that understand how to use the digital space effectively. Liz Plank and Yashar are fantastic and very funny digital champions. I also think Jordan Uhl is an absolute mastermind, as is DCAT. We will also collaborate at times to amplify projects and build our echo chamber effectively.
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