Social media activism is useful in a sense that it is able to reach a wide audience without us having to do anything more than tap our thumbs on our keyboards and press ‘send’ after seeing a broadcast on the news about something devastating that is currently happening in the world. I can truly understand how it is such a popular medium to inspire change and action against those atrocities, especially when you can sit back and chew popcorn while doing it. But can you really call yourself an activist when the seat of your chair knows warmth more than the hungry child you are petitioning to shelter?
Now by no means am I negating social media as a platform for activism to take place, I am merely examining whether or not you should include your name on the list of activists if your cause or outcry is so comfortable. Almost three years ago, a campaign to find Joseph Kony, the infamous guerilla group leader, broke the internet, and today we are begging Jihadi militants, Boko Haram, on Twitter and Instagram to bring back our girls. But where are the girls? And where is Kony? I recently tried to find Kony on Google but I stopped after seeing a video of a naked man ranting on the street. This begs the question: how effective is my social media ‘activism’, really? What happens after one person, or 100,000 people send a hash tag off into cyberspace? These days I’m more inclined to thinking the people who are interested in reading the hash tags are only the ones who care enough to send them. The people we are reaching out to are either occupied with other world-dominating activities or busy being the horrible people we are ‘fighting’ against. Mr Obama, sir, are you reading our tweets? (Well, perhaps…) A quote by Malcolm Gladwell, in the New Yorker, said, “the internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvellous efficiency. But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism.” He further said that getting people to sign up for a donor registry may be easy “but it doesn’t involve financial or personal risk; it doesn’t mean spending a summer being chased by armed men in pickup trucks. It doesn’t require that you confront socially entrenched norms and practices. In fact, it’s the kind of commitment that will bring only social acknowledgement and praise.” I can’t help but agree. To me, the term ‘social media activism’ doesn’t exist for those who sit back, thinking they are making a change by doing minimal work. I think the only people who can call themselves activists are the ones who are out there creating channels for change. And those of us who are just pressing the ‘retweet’ button, we are not doing anything more than saying what someone else has already said, hoping that the other more involved party will do all the work for us while we wait for our participation certificate. While people sleep in front of embassies, have public speeches, burn themselves alive and hack through government official documents, we are matching words with no spaces between them to create catchy hash tags. As far as I know, they have been trying to catch Kony since 1994. I feel like we have been more successful in creating and laughing at memes from Bobby Schmurda’s arrest than we have in making sure that authorities find this guy. We live in a world where everybody is trying to get credited or seen in high regard for something. And I don’t think it helps that social media has produced such a complacent generation. We also live in a time where we are used to hearing war stories from our grandparents and parents, and how they had to fight to give us what we have. We are so comfortable with hearing about what others are doing that we are happy to sit in front of our screens for hours being motivated, but not actually doing anything. That’s alright, really; not all of us are fighters and we can admit that. But don’t call your acts activism simply because you care. Some people are participating in hearings and riots and we think that making frequent use of our opposable thumbs is a significant enough mark to say that we were there. Let us not kid ourselves; we are merely observers.