Digital Activism & Citizenship: Malta vs the United States

*This blog is a project for Study Unit MCS3953, University of Malta.*

As Communications students who are fascinated with the world of digital activism, we thought it would be interesting to talk about digital activism in both Malta and the United States. We assume that the US, being so much bigger than our small island of Malta, must approach digital activism in a different manner as a country. Therefore, in this blog post, we will be comparing and contrasting the way both countries deal with the online world with regards to feminism, race and more!

I should start off by saying that Malta has always been known to be extremely partisan. I am not in any way claiming that American citizens are not at all influenced by the political parties, I am simply stating that in Malta the influence of political parties on the citizens is substantial.

Photo by Paul Weaver on Unsplash

Having said this, according to Dan Balz (2019), despite hating partisanship, American citizens are slowly becoming more and more partisan. In 2019, with Donald Trump still occupying the oval office, Dan Balzan (2019) writes “Three years ago, the Pew Research Center released a study detailing the depths of partisan polarization across the country. A follow-up study released this fall found that, since the election of President Trump, those divisions are even worse.”

You might be wondering, what does this have to do with digital citizenship? Since a lot of the powerful online advocates are political figures and members of parliament, the way citizens act and react to the online activism is heavily impacted.

Let’s look at the situation in Malta first and analyse this statement in terms of the divorce referendum. Back in 2011, divorce was a very hot topic in Malta. In the months leading up to the referendum, the Nationalist and Labour party both had their own opinion. It was clear from the beginning that the Labour party was in favour of this whilst the Nationalist party was not.

Who was right and who was wrong is irrelevant. What we are looking at is how social media and partisanship has influenced the legalisation of divorce in Malta. According to Carmen Sammut (2011), “The social media have become the preferred source of information for a generation of young people that hardly ever looks at a newspaper…whereas campaigners focused primarily on the old media and interpersonal communication in communities, there was a grassroots campaign outside formal structures which emerged through social media.” He continues “The interactive potential of the internet permitted debates outside the formal and hidden agenda of powerful institutions like the church, the state and political parties.”

Keeping with the theme of marriage, let us look at the situation with same sex marriages. The gay pride movement, or more accurately, the first ever demonstration raised by the LGBTIQ+ community, started in June of 1969. Given the fact that as we all know from various series, movies and also works of history, these people have been existing all throughout time even in the 1800’s, I would say that 1969 was quite a late start to the uprising. However, even more shocking is the fact that same-sex marriage has only been guaranteed as a fundamental right for 5 years. Meaning that it was illegal for same-sex couples to marry before 2015! In Malta this was signed by President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca in September 2017. So in comparison, Malta was not as late to the party as many people make it seem.

Photo by Teddy Österblom on Unsplash

However, even though Malta won some brownie points with the gay community in recent years, it still has some long way to go to shy away from partisanship. If you roam the streets of Malta and ask any person what they think of the influx of immigrants that are coming by boat, they will most probably tell you that if they were in power they would “send them back to their country”. Many activists, such as Peppi Azzopardi, try but to somewhat no avail to speak up for these people who do not have a voice, but honestly can a handful of people alone change the mentality of a whole country, no matter how small? As we have said in previous posts, the BLM movement has made quite a ripple throughout the world. But is violence, protesting and shooting really the answer to all our problems?

This all might sound negative, but we haven’t even come close to the worse part! Activist Greta Thunberg has made us aware of the desperate situation that our world is in. With all our intelligence and uproar about how technology is moving forward we have managed to kill the very world that without it we cannot exist. How worse can the situation get than having the most powerful man in the world, the President of the United States, participating in a Twitter war with a 17 year old girl, claiming that, ‘climate change is not real’. Twitter went as far as to ban him from the site due to all the hate speech. At least in Malta, I can say that I personally am quite happy with the various campaigns that the government is issuing about recycling and other environmental issues. Apart from the government there are also many activists such as Carmel Caccopardo who strive daily to make us aware of the harm we are causing to our environment. But still, overpopulation and over building is still a huge problem in this tiny country.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

You might say, ‘wow what a world do we live in?’, but that is exactly what we want you to ask yourself. What are you, in the simplicity of your life, doing in order to help the world become a better place for generations to come? What are you doing to be the next Greta Thunberg?

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Two Communications students studying at the University of Malta who are fascinated by the power of the online voice!