February 16, 2017
I often see posts on my Facebook feed that begin with something like “I hardly ever make political posts but…” or “I never even post on Facebook but…” And usually what follows is a political article or video that evidently captivated the sharer or poster so intensely that he or she simply couldn’t scroll past it without some form of action. I myself have shared a few articles and videos (in the feminism realm, for example).
It’s hard not to. You see something that moves you and makes you feel like somebody else understands your frustrations. So, you share. And sometimes you feel so angry that you can’t just let it go to waste, and you have to write up your own thoughts and put them out there. And maybe afterwards, even if you know you aren’t making a world of change, you feel a little better. But problems arise when these actions make us feel like we are making a difference.
Many of us have heard talk of the Hamilton ‘Bubble,’ but this echo-chamber of ideas isn’t limited to Hamilton’s campus. When we share things on Facebook, anybody who clicks on your article or reads your post probably already shares your opinions. This kind of cyclical sharing reinforces the bubble and fails to encourage the kind of communication between people of differing opinions that we so desperately need right now. Additionally, it doesn’t foster understanding, it simply riles up toxic hatred that is often unproductive and matures into a bitterness that cannot be channeled into anything. No matter how passionate you are, anger that doesn’t translate to action is basically debris in the way of the fight for social justice. That’s the major concern with social media bubbles—when we get that sense of satisfaction because we feel like we’re reaching people, it make us feel active when really we’re moving things backwards.
The false feeling that we are making a contribution to a social justice movement by sharing anti-this or pro-that internet content is dangerous. While we are not necessarily doing anything bad, we’re also not contributing very much to the cause.
There are much better ways to effect change. Social movements need active, dedicated participants. Even though we can sometimes delude ourselves into believing that we can make the necessary changes from behind our computer screens, if we think a little harder we know it’s just a lame proxy for real action.
I’m not advocating for the absence of politics on social media. At all. I like my hyper-liberal political rants as much as anybody else. Pushing our agendas on social media can make us feel better and even introduce us to relevant, stimulating content, but just pressing “send” or “share” is not enough. There is value in sharing opinions, in outwardly demanding justice and declaring ourselves part of the fight. But we actually have to act on it too. It’s about the follow-up. There are on-campus groups and larger charitable organizations to support, marches to attend, votes to be cast, phone calls to be made. There’s no harm in utilizing social media as long as we follow up by engaging our communities and respectfully approaching those who don’t share our opinions. The other half of action is coming together, not only with those who share our views, but also with those who do not.
Making progress in social movements is about making America a more equal place as a whole, not encouraging hate of “the other side” that deepens the chasm between people of differing ideologies. Social media does not have to be a bad thing for social movements, but it’s dangerous when we tell ourselves it’s enough. If we can harness social media as a platform to organize real change as opposed to a dumping ground for our grievances, it can become a valuable tool in the ongoing fight for social justice.