Activism on social media divides more than unites

Social media has grown to take on countless functions in our daily lives. But one thing I am sure no one originally counted on was the role that social media would play in organizing activism and protests across the world. From Arab Spring to Asian protests to domestic social justice protests, hashtags and social media organizations have become a cornerstone of activism and protesting.

I have no problem with this kind of activism; it is good that technology can be utilized to move forward towards noble goals. But there is another kind of Facebook activism that does drive me slightly crazy. I am sure you have that one person (or maybe several) in your newsfeed who is always posting something controversial or inflammatory about the latest social movement.

It is possible that these people are genuinely involved in their cases that they feel they need to speak out. But more often than not it seems like a way to vent about various frustrations in a way that makes you feel good, but is not actually productive.

Because if we are honest with ourselves, how many people are going to be swayed by your post on social media? You either will have some “troll” who will turn your discussion into a firestorm, or people will generally agree with you. Occasionally there may be legitimate dialogue carried out on social media, but I rarely if ever see that.

And even if your post somehow revolutionized the worldview of everyone on your friends list (good luck with even one, much less all) how much really would you have gained. Unless you happen to be friends with a councilman or congressman, it’s likely that nothing will come of your Facebook posts. Maybe some coverage in the media. But progress always seems to come from those who actually get out there, organize and attempt to win people over face-to-face.

So while social media may be a good tool for organizing such “actual” protests, I see it far more often as a feel-good way to state your opinion or show support with little investment. You changing your profile picture to some flag overlay may show a measure of support, but I do not think it is doing anything measurable to advance the cause. Likewise with whatever controversial post you share or write, people may agree or disagree. But to me it seems more to divide and net hurt the cause rather than lead people to meaningful progress.

So next time you decide to post something to your Facebook page, I would encourage you to consider the impact that it would have. If you do not mind being divisive, that’s fine. But if you truly care about whatever cause you are impassioned about, it would seem prudent to consider the ramifications of how you utilize social media in your activism.

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