Under the Microscope: Social Media Activism

12:13 PM

One day, years ago, I got introduced to the world of activism through social media. 

I scoured through hundreds of posts, which simply outlined for me the mechanics of feminism, cultural appropriation, Black Lives Matter, and so much more. My eyes were opened to the disparities, big and small, myself and other groups faced. Daily, I began to see discriminatory tendencies ingrained into our everyday lives that inherently set back many communities. I was aware. However, while social media activism has its benefits, it also has its drawbacks. In another long foregone installment of "Under the Microscope", we'll see how social media has affected the social justice movement, mainly through the lens of my personal opinion.

The Good: Bite-Sized Education

From my personal experience, social media has been a powerful tool in successfully spreading the word on social justice issues. Namely, Black Lives Matter was bred as a simple hashtag, and has grown into a vast movement; gaining the support of millions. I think this sort of diffusion is partly due to the format in which social media presents information. Tweets and Instagram pictures are simple, and straightforward- an asset in a society with a low attention span. They are also by the people. With that I mean that the information is shown in terms that are easy for the everyday person to understand. It's condensed in a "what you need to know" format that helps us forgo scouring through scholarly articles for a single fact. It's also accessible. All it takes is a simple follow for an array of information to be given to you directly. One needs not to go out of their way to conduct their own research, instead they can gain knowledge off of an activity they do otherwise: scrolling through social media. Finally, it can make a difference. If something gets a considerable amount of activity on the internet, people with a real influence on the dynamics of government can take notice. It is now easier than ever to declare your affinities, and get your stances noticed financially, politically, or otherwise. Grassroots organizations have more leverage now. Social media has given myself, and countless others, a glimpse into the world of equality; and an outline into the general things we should know. Things we would have otherwise been completely ignorant about. For many, social media is one of the only gateways outside a sheltered world. However, can social media do better? I think so. One of the things that personally bothers me about is calling out culture, and the superficiality of activism. 

The Bad: Calling out Culture and Superficiality

Calling out culture is exactly what the name implies. Calling someone out on social media for a remark or action they have made that is problematic. This is often seen most in celebrities; whose lives are available for the scrutiny of millions online. Sometimes, calling out culture is a real weapon in raising awareness. People of influence can call to attention why something is wrong, and use their platforms to spread awareness. However, there is a point where calling out culture becomes less about growth and more about superiority. I dislike calling out culture in the sense that people are not allowed to educate themselves, that their growth is derailed from actions they have committed long ago. Social media triggers this with its longevity; its ability to retain and display a person’s thoughts dating back years. The way people online fully dismiss someone as good or bad based on one action discourages many from participating in the discourse that is unlearning problematic behavior. Those who carry out the action of calling someone out also carry an aura of superiority, of the fact being they are “more woke” than other people. The truth is nobody is wholly problematic or not; there is always room for improvement. If we just call someone out by saying what they’re doing is wrong (in those areas many deem gray, like cultural appropriation. Racism, of course, is inherently wrong), what inclination do they have to change their ways based on the declaration of an online avatar? It is only human to get defensive and bitter in the face of confrontation, something which calling out culture draws. I think we should pair calling out culture with education. Be it a full-on explanation, links to articles, or a simple plea to Google so-and-so subject, a little bit of learning goes a long way. And, if that doesn’t work? Well, it’s doesn’t have to be one’s job to convince them so.

Another part of the social media activism I dislike is the superficiality of it all. People think it’s as easy as posting a deep quote, retweeting a problematic news event, or, even, calling someone out. While this does wonders in spreading awareness on a problem, it does little to combat it. While wearing a T-shirt that says “feminist” on is a great way to declare your solidarity with the cause, what are you doing to help out? You can do something tangible, like donating your time, money, or items to a women’s shelter. Alternatively, you can also be mindful of the type of information you share. Sharing links to funding pages, petitions, and more can be just as impactful as calling out a problem.

Social media activism, like many of the other forms of media we consume, can hold both amazing and detrimental aspects. On a personal note (well, that was pretty much this whole article, wasn’t it?), I was a bit iffy on this because of the rampant neoliberalism of it all- which I am not sure if I align with…more on that in another article. Also, I am not sure if I am in the position to be spewing out these opinions. In my eyes, I am just a blatant observer and recorder. So, what should the next “Under the Microscope” be on?

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