We are very much alive and thriving (somewhat) in the age of social media. We are hooked to our phones, we are interconnected, we are laughing, we are crying, we are feeling left out, or feeling like a part of something bigger, all through our mobile phones. So, where does activism fit in?
Over the past few years, we have seen movements pick up momentum and gain a following through smart use of social media. The MeToo hashtag became a worldwide phenomenon; millions turned their social media pictures blue for Sudan; and of course, just a short while ago, we were all doing our daily rounds of our feeds and we saw and heard George Floyd, and we backed and continue to support the Black Lives Matter movement. The question at hand, I suppose, is that what are you achieving by sharing your opinions and your views with your followers who are more than likely to have similar perspectives as yours. Is social media activism really beneficial, or is it more self-serving? There is, of course, no clear answer. However, there are multiple ways to understand the point of such activism.
Some argue, and rightly so, that sharing posts and retweeting does only so much. The real work is donating, signing petitions, joining protests, calling your local representatives etc. This point of view is not wrong, these are all tangible things to be a part of and can be very effective, however, I strongly believe that they work because people find out via their social media apps. If we are to run with the example of the Black Lives Matter movement, so many people who are writing pieces or making art or shareable posts, are doing two important things: providing information and then providing actions to take. Such a form of activism has an outstanding outreach. Within minutes, multiple phones across various locations ping, your message is received, processed and heard. Not everyone will have the means to donate, or take action, but they will most likely pass on the word. It’s a ripple effect. The more people you can reach, the higher your chances of reaching those deliverables are. Social media activism has become such a widely recognized form of outreach that Amnesty International even has a proper training document for it!
One can go back and forth on the upsides and downsides of such activism, but we will all unanimously agree that it is effective to an extent. So, the next question is, what’s the role of an ordinary individual? Not everyone has accounts with thousands of followers; so many of us are just more lowkey with our usage, friends and family follow us and that’s it. Why share these posts then? For me, in such scenarios, it’s not about activism, it’s about making your stance known and lending your support to people you know who need it.
My 400something followers will not make widespread change if a few of them sign a petition or donate to a cause I talk about. However, they could learn something new from me, or vice versa. New nuggets of information, or fresh perspectives are always necessary to enhance discussion and improve discourse. If there’s anything we have learned in 2020, it is how dangerous ineffective political discourse is. Now is not the time to claim, “I don’t like to talk about political issues”, now is the time to sit down, and reflect on ideas that make us uncomfortable for some reason, face them head on, acknowledge privileges, and be better individuals. The only way to do all of that is to hear other people’s thoughts, talk to them about it, exchange ideas and inculcate some form of growth. This is a very Utopian idea of why even within your circles such activism matters, however, there’s more to it.
You cannot afford to stay silent anymore, not everything in every situation is about your own learning. If you have a social media account, firstly, inform yourself about what you’re talking about, don’t share things blindly just for the sake of it (e.g. Blackout Tuesday). Not every issue is going to be relevant to your life, but it could possibly be extremely applicable to your friend or sibling or significant other. It’s important to define your stance, and it’s important to step up. You could be a white, straight man completely unaffected by blatant disregard of black trans lives, but you need to take a stand for the people in your circle who could relate, if nothing else. You could be unaffected by Islamophobia, have nothing to do with violence against women, be completely irrelevant to what’s happening in Hong Kong, but some within your seemingly small circle could be, and they could use the support.
If nothing else, our social media activism will always be a way to reassure another individual of something very simple: we see you, we hear you, and we fight for you. Such a stance will always matter.
[Hooran M. Khattak, (she/her), @hooran.m]
[Illustration by sketchify]