Social media is a visual example of how democracy has evolved. Using one’s Facebook status or Twitter feed as a “mini soapbox” became widespread in 2013. It has a profound effect on public discussion and communication regarding current affairs but simultaneously nurtured a very shallow and casual approach to online activism and solidarity. The expression of democratic values is not so grandiose to exclude being able to post your opinion about a piece of news. On the contrary, it has become reduced to social gestures such as ‘retweets’, ‘status sharing’ and ‘likes’ resulting in comforting illusion instead of meaningful actions.
A common phrase tossed around is that social media platforms have become “the gatekeepers of attention”. Trending issues or events around the world are a product of how ‘new media’ chooses to prioritize and value interaction on their online platforms. Pre-decided trends can be forced into the public‘s attention, but in the latter half of 2013 trends have been established by increased interactions and engagement on Facebook and Twitter. These issues have been forced to the forefront of both old and new media. Examples such as the #Occupy, #DelhiGangRape and #TrayvonMartin are products of the perfect social media conditions that have been spun into the most prolific news pieces of 2013.
Armchair Activism: An Unwitting Villain
Effort is wasted in bashing ‘armchair activism’. Instead, the focus should be to highlight how we have mostly substituted physical social responsibility with online awareness. The question of, ‘Does a hashtag save a life?’, is a loaded question which is used to discredit online social campaigns, but fails to offer alternatives. To post a status about an ongoing world event and express indignation, anger or even support reflects how one wants to be perceived by others as an informed, aware and thoughtful individual. It is not true that because someone shares a status about the Syrian Civil War or about Delhi’s Gang Rape that it is useless and part of a weak and uninvolved form of activism. Choosing to participate in the information network is always encouraged as long as it serves to educate others and not simply used as a popularity prop.
That being said, overusing social media in a careless way to simply be seen as aware and involved distracts attention towards how “compelling” and “motivating” one’s content is, as opposed to the actual content itself. Instead, the key to being truly aware and involved in current affairs, and promoting justice for people is being aware of the forces that exist outside of one’s personal online bubble. Social media platforms can monitor a huge interconnected network of opinions, collective movements and discussions.
Share Because You Care – Not Because You Should
The power of social media is that it Viagra 100mg connects the world and the public in a network of information and knowledge, uncensored or otherwise. Human solidarity exists outside of government activities and formal handshakes is seen at its best in online activism. However, it goes without saying that any tool can be misused and exploited to further superficial campaigns to detract from real issues at hand. Social media is poised to play a big role in public mobilization, or public awareness regarding current affairs in 2014. There are countless examples of “online mob justice” and of course, the supposed “Twitter Revolution” which sparked the Arab Spring. The scale at which the public rallies around causes people to form collective opinions about events around the world is unlike anything that the ‘old media’ could have possibly done.
Online freedom has become subject to social media monitoring and public censorship. This “limitation on online freedoms” has resulted in a tame and distanced approach to activism that results in democratic image and democratic reality not being able to keep up with one another. Case-in-point, when Edward Snowden’s whistle-blowing made headlines, the uncovering of NSA activities was met mostly with indignation and calls for respecting privacy and online freedoms. But when the true scope of online monitoring implicated the United States, along with various media companies such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft, there were few changes made. We continued to use these services, because to “disconnect oneself” would mean an actual halt in everyday life communication. Even after you consciously disconnect from online networking, the fingerprint of where you’ve been, your ideas, who you’ve spoken to – it all remains in some form or another.
Therefore the answer does not lie in bashing social media platforms, but rather making efforts to understand their larger role in communicating and censoring information. This is the only way to break the invisible and powerful effect that “trends” have on us. In this way, we can address the worrying question of what makes something worthy of such “attention” and focus on the actual issues at hand instead of the platforms themselves. There must be a conscious effort to rid armchair activism of the “cop-out” reputation it has acquired. I suggest that people reject calls to ‘share’ or ‘retweet’ content that if pegged to phrases like “if [I] want to stop world hunger” or if “[I] believe in justice”. This is how morality and social media become diluted tools and part of the argument against armchair activism. The invisible jail that has been exposed by the PRISM scandal shows that in order for democracy to evolve, it’s provisions must be enforced, and the power of the public is the only thing that will force it to change.
– Hiba Ganta