OPINION: Why Social Media Activism Is A Double - Edged Sword

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

This article was written by Annabelle Kim.

From the 2019 Iranian uprisings and the Hong Kong protests to last year’s Black Lives Matter movement, social media has, undoubtedly, left its mark on the way modern movements are organized and scaled, altering the trajectory of activism in years to come. However, while social media has played a beneficial role in terms of coordinating tangible movements, the question remains of how efficient it’s been in terms of actually enacting widespread change.

Donating to nonprofit organizations, signing petitions, educating yourself on the origins of the movements. These are all useful tools for demanding real change and social justice. Approaches like sharing selfies with affiliated hashtags or associating memes to movements, however, are not enough of an effort to justify shaming those who don’t engage in the activism. Rather, they can be incredibly counterproductive.

These approaches not only trivialize the movements themselves but also marginalize the experiences of those who have actually been victims of the modalities of oppression that movements seek to combat. Unsurprisingly, a sense of frustration and a feeling of helplessness have a risen as a consequence of how social media has been utilized to combat various social issues.

Activism, in itself, is very emotionally tolling. Its taxing nature derives from the fact that it deals with real-world issues that are often, if not always, hard to influence. Many people experience uncertainty as to how impactful their efforts are. Even more anxiety inducing is when people engage in shaming on social media. An additional (and very intense) pressure to be constantly attached and engaged with many and various movements arises, taking a notable toll on mental health.

For individuals who have experienced trauma related to the movements themselves, it can be equally heart wrenching to feel that their voices are being lost in the midst of all the noise, especially when this noise comes from individuals who cannot personally relate to the movement and are solely involved due to this pressure from their followings.

What is more, there is also a discrepancy between the way people act in real life and online. Hidden behind their screens, people often start to feel a twisted sense of freedom to say whatever they want to whomever they want, regardless of how their message might be received. Social media, as a result, has become the perfect platform to foster hate, which violates exactly what most movements stand for.

Social media can be a powerful tool to evoke change, but the current discourse surrounding how it is used needs to be reformed. Despite what anyone on social media may say, it is okay to step back from these discussions when they start to create burnout and emotional exhaustion. It is also important that key voices do not become overshadowed within the discourse because they are the ones who will be able to combat hate with authenticity.

With this slew of varying perspectives among those who engage in, comment on, or criticize activism through social media, the true purposes behind social movements become oversights. The pressure to engage in activism without being fully aware of the cause and the freedom to spread hate and false information about a movement directly derail mobilization and people’s willingness to act, both of which are necessities for social change.

That is why it is important that the line between advocacy and incivility does not become irrevocably enmeshed. Otherwise, people will inevitably become repulsed by social media. Thus, relinquishing us of the opportunity to unite an ever greater number of people on our quest for justice and equality for all.

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