On Social Media Activism

I didn’t anticipate the McKinney pool party, the church shooting, or Sandra Bland, but when I came home from college I did think I was going to be writing on this blog. That I was going to be spreading so much of my amateur insight and commentary, I could drown in it. Yet when those events came around I found myself, in certain respects, silent. And believe me, I really beat myself up about it.

It’s not like I shy away from discussing the complicated realities of race, gender, economics, ability and other facets of culture with family and friends. I think about these concepts often, if not every day, but I never got around to writing about them. And there were so many things I could have said about the way black women have been thrashed and jailed for traffic violations, or humiliated for something as natural as laughter.

I could have written an entire article criticizing the mechanics of race in America—how when a white woman wants to be black the concept of race is fluid and trivial and her intentions are ultimately harmless, but when white knee caps are buried in a black girl’s back suddenly statistics show that blacks are more prone to savagery and violence.

And don’t even get me started on the questions I have regarding the term “black on black crime” and how it’s been drilled into our heads to sound like a natural phenomenon when the term “white on white crime” just sounds silly, apparently.

But I didn’t write about any of these things on this blog, and I was especially afraid that my silence would make friends and readers think I was ignorant, self-hating or that I was a quitter. I was afraid that I would let someone down, especially seeing how stuffed my Facebook newsfeed is with impassioned opinions concerning the latest headlines.

In June I finally published my first (and only) Facebook post directly addressing (what came to be only a fraction of) the biggest social justice issues of the summer. When I wrote it I spent a considerable amount of time thinking about whether or not it should even be posted, and I spent even more time writing and editing. I went the whole nine yards: composing my post in a word document, reading it out loud to myself over and over, and getting a second opinion before actually making the move to put it out there.

But what came of this was not a sense of accomplishment, but the anticipation of casting my post out onto my friends’ newsfeed and anxiously waiting for it to be liked. Not just liked but liked by the right people: the socially conscious, “woke” and radical. The people who put 100 percent of their passion into these issues I was somehow milking popularity points from.

And I remember a trivial sense of accomplishment when my peers validated me with the most valuable social currency—Facebook likes. I was patting myself on the back and I felt more pride in the clicks I got than the words I wrote.

Maybe I was being too self-critical, but I did feel pretty crappy about this for a while, and so I refused to write anything. But I eventually noticed a similar attitude in Facebook’s social justice scene. (Note: The phrase “Facebook’s social justice scene” was low-key difficult to write with a straight face.)

The new civil rights movement is profitable for outlets like MTV who, not long before before, placidly fed the public the same system-complying bull that any other unconscious publication or network would. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate seeing more awareness, but occasionally there are times when I feel like MTV’s writers jump on the social justice wagon so fast, they totally misrepresent everything about the given issue, or they don’t delve into an issue enough to prove a point.

I started to question whether or not people bandwaggoned on hashtags just to feel cool and edgy because one day I’d find a friend co-signing the value of black life then the next day they’d use that ‘I heart black people’ sticker to cover their bumpers in a problematic social media post. They’d list every cause they support like badges of honor and demand an executive pardon from an entire race.

I once stumbled across a post where someone basically lionized themselves for their participation in socially progressive opinions, trendy hashtags and basic human empathy. And this person got many, many, many likes.

But that post was relatable to me because I felt like I did the same thing when I returned home from my freshman year of college with one protest under my belt.

So yes, after these observations about myself and the patterns of social media, I was pretty scared to publish anything. I’d like statuses and share videos, but I stopped writing. Before I harbored a fear of letting people down if I didn’t post, but then I started to fear the chance of contributing to issues in a self-involved way.

I reviewed articles I’d written on this blog in the past and found them selfish. And for a moment I considered discreetly shutting this site down and pretending it never ever happened.

Even this post was difficult to write because I’ve struggled to find its thesis. It started as a cumulative post of my naïve opinions on everything, before transforming into a soapbox sermon on self-congratulatory behavior in social justice. I’ve spent almost two weeks fumbling with it and now it’s nothing more than my attempt to explain why I haven’t written anything in such a long time.

What I do find interesting though is that this anxiety is only triggered when it comes to my writing online. When I speak with someone face to face, or go to a live event I do not feel this shame.

I’m not here to bash social media activism—if it weren’t for social media so many injustices would merely slip under the blanket of folk legend—but I think this sort of mobilization cannot lead to any real impact without physical presence.

I know of many people who simply share links to social justice articles on Facebook, then proceed to post a funny meme five minutes later. (While I’m not active enough on Facebook to follow this particular pattern, for me this might translate to writing an article about someone’s abuse, then going on to forget about it by playing Grand Theft Auto for six hours straight.) And I don’t think it’s fair to criticize a pattern like that because someone’s social media account should be about them, their life and what they like. And speaking for my own way of doing things, I don’t think I deserve to always be upset or sad or angry—I need to take care of myself.

But I do think there is something wrong when a person feels like a hero after sharing a social justice article, and reaping all the likes and brownie points they can from their peers, before resisting opportunities to go to live events relating to the injustices they’ve been getting their street cred from.

Tl;dr: I want to challenge myself to actively participate in live events pertaining to the causes I post about on social media. And I want to extend this challenge to anyone reading this.

Again, social media activism and blogging are definite forms of mobilization and they reflect the way that activism is adapting to a digital world. Sharing articles is important, and can help get a concise message out to everyone you know, but no one remembers a Facebook post like they remember an actual event. Sometimes posts about police brutality, shootings, and general wrongness can act more as passport stamps or bumper stickers for a person than actual acts of activism. And as we drive faster and faster onto the next big thing in news, we forget all about those well-meaning slogans melting on the backs of our cars.





Lauren About Lauren
The creator of the site. Read her posts and comment so that she doesn't cry or something.

Filed in: Featured, Gender, Politics, Race, Reflection
Do not re-publish this to any website without the explicit consent of the webmaster and/or author.

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  • Catherine Zhang

    Hi Lauren :) So glad to see that you’re starting to write on here again. I feel like this article really says a lot, because these days, so much content is being produced on the internet on any given issue that bloggers/writers sometimes feel like their own opinions and words are just being swallowed in a huge current. However, I think that while our websites and blogs are certainly made public for other people to read, the best function they serve is for ourselves. I think you should not only NOT delete any of your previous content, but also be proud of it! Even if you may not agree/don’t know why you wrote something that you published a year ago, it’s a great way to stamp your writing style and opinions at a certain point in time. That’s DEFINITELY the way I approach my blog, because I read things that I wrote a year ago and they seem kind of weird and irrelevant. But I still leave them up because, I don’t know, it’s like a diary of sorts. See what you were thinking at a given place and time of your life. And if you want to start using social media to actively engage in political issues, then go you. Then, in a few years, you’ll scroll back and see the progression and direction that you travelled in. Even though I don’t write much about politics, I still agreed with a lot of what you wrote. Sometimes what I write is probably better suited for a private diary and is just sort of ranty or reflective, but I take pride in it because that’s what I like and it’s a sort of therapy for me.
    Also, just so you know I really liked the language that you used in this post. Aka it was super well written. Yay! Hope to see you around in a few weeks, and if you’re up to it, we should collaborate on guest posts or something!! – Catherine

    • Lauren

      Hey Cat,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to write me! It means a lot, really. I think you’re right that previous entries are pretty important and erasing my writing past should never be a solution. Ultimately I’m glad I didn’t shut down the blog because it is a pretty solid collection of my way of seeing, my perception and the like.

      In this post I am very critical of my own politically-charged writing and my role on social media. And I think by writing this out (yes like a diary, haha) I have officially overcome that bout of grief. I’ve finally gotten to check myself and now I know exactly what I need to do to extend my ramblings into my actions and the way I live. So yes, as you mentioned about your writing this, has been more of a therapy. : )

      Again thanks for your comment, girl! And I hope to see you around campus!! Food?? :D


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