The Power of Social Media

Scrolling through Facebook, I stumbled upon a link shared by an old friend of mine who is currently in the Peace Corps. Her posts always catch my eye, as she is stationed in Senegal and frequently posts pictures of her trip. However, this post caught my eye for a different reason–it discussed the precautions individuals should make when posting pictures from their trips abroad. I immediately saved the link for a future blog post, as it reminded me of our in class discussions and our future collective course statement on medical voluntourism.

In our small group discussion today, as the topic turned toward medical voluntourism, I brought up the article. To my surprise, Rachel read the article as well and planned to write a blog post on it too. In her post, Rachel discusses an Instagram account mentioned in the article we read entitled Barbie Savior, which is “essentially what a white saviors Instagram would look life if they went to Africa told through the lens of Barbie dolls” (Katz, 2017). The Instagram account uses Barbie dolls to make it painfully obvious how some people’s posts while abroad are disrespectful. Scrolling through the Barbie Savior account, although comical, provides a unique lens into how social media posts from trips abroad can be so discourteous to the people that live there.

The original article discussing social media posts while studying abroad provided a link to a social media guide for volunteers and travelers. I highly recommend my classmates read it in considering how we will frame our course statement on voluntourism. The guide provides a checklist to consider before you post and principles to follow in considering a potential post. In a world where Instagram advertisements are becoming more influential than television advertisements, Instagram posts have a powerful effect that users may not realize. Curtailing the portrayal of Western volunteers as “saviors to needy people in low-income countries” may be an important step in combating medical voluntourism. If individuals volunteering abroad consider the social media guide when they post, they can promote appropriate and respectful attitudes for others volunteering. The fourth principle discussed in the social media guide advocates that volunteers should “use [their] chance to tell [their] friends and stalkers on social media the stories that are yet to be told”. Instead of portraying themselves as “saviors”, volunteers can use their social media to tell stories that have not been told yet and show their followers the complex stories and lives of the people in the country they are visiting. By showing an alternate story to the savior complex, volunteers can both stop the perpetuation of this idea while promoting appreciation for the country’s culture and people. Social media such as Instagram and Facebook are powerful tools that should be utilized in campaigns working towards promoting change in issues such as voluntourism, and are worth consideration for inclusion in our collective course statement.

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