Athens, OH – Dr. Saumya Pant discussed social media activism at the SMART Dialogue Series March 6. Dr. Pant is a Media Arts and Studies professor, with research focuses in communication for social change and interpersonal communication.

In the presentation, titled “The Role of Social Media Activism in Democratizing and Transforming Citizen Participation” Dr. Pant discussed her project Bring a Smile, a social media campaign to address poverty among street children in India that began on Facebook in 2015. The sole intention, she explained was to “give each child the right to smile.” She was inspired by the idea of “Secret Santa” gift exchange posts that she saw on the platform and decided that there are children without basic amenities who need these gifts more. Just hours after posting her idea on Facebook, she received more than 200 responses of people wanting to contribute.

She completed the first project of Bring a Smile, “Bring a Toy,” in 2016. Dr. Pant shared how the people who pledged participation through Facebook donated to purchase a gift set, which included a sweater and a toy for a child. Following the success of this project, Dr. Pant’s campaign has completed six other projects, which she discussed, such as “Keep Me Safe,” a campaign to provide girls 11-17 in Indian slums with appropriate clothing to help prevent sexual abuse, and “Warm Me Up,” which brought warm clothes to young children and mothers.

Dr. Pant explained how this campaign sparked a discussion online, “A lot of conversation about poverty, needs, and how we can help these children was happening on social media.” She also talked about the ways she used social media to make participants feel involved in Bring a Smile, “A report goes out after every campaign with pictures and narratives so that people know where their money is going, and to create engagement.”

To conclude the presentation, Dr. Pant discussed some of the scholarly research behind social media activism as a new form of participation. She talked about this type of self-organization, referring to it as ‘connective action.’ Dr. Pant also proposed to conduct qualitative interviews to explore the role of Facebook as a space for participation in the Bring a Smile campaigns.

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By Alayna Hutchinson