Harry Belafonte Embraces the Power of Twitter Activism  

He’s been quick to shame others for subpar social responsibility, but the actor and humanitarian is withholding judgment about the use of “powerful” social media for change.

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Harry Belafonte

STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images

He's 86 years old. He began his human and civil rights advocacy decades before the introduction of social media. Many observers chalked up his public shaming of contemporary black celebrities for failure to engage in his brand of social justice work to a simple generational divide.

So one might guess that actor, singer and activist Harry Belafonte, whose on-the-ground efforts have spanned the globe and have been decidedly up-close and personal (as recently as July, he joined the Dream Defenders' demonstration at the Florida State Capital), would fall into the "Twitter is turning us into political punks" camp when it comes to the use of the social networks for activism.

Not so.

"What it will stimulate in our social circles is yet to be defined. But it's out there, and it's powerful," he told The Root.

Asked whether what some have labeled "Clicktvism" strikes him as the lazy, ineffective alternative to authentic work, Belafonte was hesitant to judge.

"I don't think [social media] has yet defined what it will be. It certainly puts us in touch with each other; therefore we get the opportunity to know more about each other, and that's an important opportunity," he said.

Tweeting under @Harry Belafonte—a verified account—Belafonte has just over 9,500 followers. His 294 tweets include a handful of dispatches per month, promoting organizations including UNICEF, NAACP and Amnesty International, and making statements that hew closely to the ones he makes offline. The most recent praised Nelson Mandela the day after his death.

Following a list of 294 users that's heavy on academics, nonprofits, authors, journalists and artists, Belafonte engages with the medium at a rate that hovers around average. But that could change. As he says, "It's a phenomenon that's shaping what it's to be."

Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Root’s senior staff writer. Follow her on Twitter.

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