As fortunate as we are to live in the era of social reform, with life-threatening issues being phased in and out of the media, can we trust that we’re making a change?
by Aashna Chudgar
Anybody who has been exposed to current media, whether they are young or old, has seen the rise in social justice activism across many platforms, including Tik Tok and Instagram. Black Lives Matter, Stop AAPI Hate, Pride, and many other movements fighting for equality have gotten the attention they deserve thanks to social media. Many individuals who once regarded their identity with shame and prejudice have found comfort in who they are by building communities in which they share social atypicality with other members unabashedly. In other words, not only have many social issues related to identity been brought to light but the voices of those who possess those marginalized identities have been amplified.
However, if your media pages are anything like mine, after seeing constant coverage on an issue for a week or so, the issue gradually seems to be talked about less and less, eventually leaving the discussion as a whole. Middle Eastern creators talking about Palestine, Indigenous creators talking about missing women and children, transgender creators talking about the murder of trans men and women, and so many other marginalized creators often find themselves with low reach and viewership the minute the majority’s interest in a topic dissipates, making social justice seem like a trend.
This brings us to our trilemma: does social activism within social media benefit, harm, or have no net effect on social issues? Let’s find out.
The Anesthetic Perspective
Silver Chips Online brings up a very pressing question related to social media activism: “It spreads awareness, but will it excite your audience to act on the cause? What about the reposter: do they really feel impassioned to take action after sharing a post, or did they do it to appear 'woke' about current events?”. When we reblog the same information dozens of times our minds will become numb and desensitized to information about potentially horrific events. Constantly seeing graphic images and videos of famine, genocide, abuse, and terrorism, your mind will start to blur all of these issues together and become psychologically incapable of showing empathy. Not to mention it’s very easy to steal information from other content creators and call it activism when in reality it’s highly performative, and when the same information circulates dozens of times it doesn’t leave much room for other information.
“Sharing opinions on private accounts also reinforces social media echo chambers, as the information travels to friends and acquaintances who may share similar ideas and preferences” (Silver Chips Online). One thing many performative activists have a hard time doing is stepping out of their comfort zone and educating those who don’t share the same opinions as them. The whole point of activism is to spread an ideology or way of thinking across the nation, and while in-person activism is much more effective in catching the attention of people with all kinds of political beliefs, social media caters to people’s interests. Socially regressive people can easily block or avoid accounts that talk about beliefs they don’t agree with and vice versa, not to mention their explore pages won’t have social justice posts on them if that’s not the type of content the person frequently interacts with. Overall, social media forces activism to be caged into certain areas it’s already been established in, essentially hurting minorities instead of aiding them.
The Advocacy Perspective
“The primary benefit to using social media in activism campaigns is social media’s ability to spread information faster than ever before. This may seem like an obvious benefit, but it has completely shifted the way we receive, conceptualize, and share information” (Penn State). Social media is a force to be reckoned with, many people use it to
spread awareness towards causes they deeply care about. The reach social media has is absolutely shocking. “Social media usage growth for 2018 is expected to reach 2.5 billion people worldwide (statista.com, 2018). Additionally, approximately seven-in-ten Americans use social media to share
information, which demonstrates the far-reaching power that social media has when it comes to the sharing of information (pewinternet.org, 2018)” (Penn State). The graphic on the right is pulled from Pew Research Center, and it shows how many social media users build communities off of their beliefs, use their platform to
advocate for causes, and in general express their opinions to the general public. The ability to share information and opinions with millions of people with a few simple clicks is a powerful tool. The graphic on the left is also pulled from Pew Research Center and it shows the main positive and negative impacts the majority of Americans believe social media to have on minority issues. More positive impacts are shown in this graphic, and many Americans seem to believe that social media helps amplify the voices of underrepresented people, bring attention to new issues and allow them to have a powerful debut, and help hold people accountable. Accountability is a large part of showing moral growth as a person and helps diminish performative and toxic versions of cancel culture. Overall, social media can help advocate for all kinds of people and issues and can spread a message quite quickly.
The Neutral Perspective
Activism and advocacy has been around for many years. The Civil Rights Movement, The Stonewall Riots, and many other pivotal moments in social identity history have built a powerful structure for in-person activism that has allowed social media activism to flourish. Powerful people from all political ideologies are allowed to express their opinions in the modern world, some aimed to uplift people, some aimed to harm. Social media is not the Internet platform available to advocates. Many users write on platforms such as Medium, start their own podcasts, and even make music related to the oppression and repression they’ve faced. Activism is about sharing the negative experiences people have faced in their home countries.
Social media is a powerful tool that needs to be handled responsibly in order to make a difference. It shouldn’t be corrupted or used to deceive people as it’s a way of sharing raw experiences. Social media reflects the intentions of the people that use it. If people advocate solely for trends on social media, the activism that follows it will not be effective whatsoever. Passion is what drives platforms to have a following and dynamic interaction.
Social media is only as powerful as the people that use it.
So what do you think, how do you want to use your platform?