by Zainub Tayeb
We’ve all heard it from parents, aunts/uncles or neighbors, “Kids these days are always on their phones!” They may also claim that social media has ruined the ability to have an intelligent conversation face-to-face. Yes, it is the age of selfies, cat videos, and inexplicable frog memes. Besides the occasional six second video from (the now) dead Vine, timelines and dashes are also scattered with political statements and ripe with social commentary. It is also the age of hashtags that call for justice for the unarmed killing of a young African-American man. Social media helps movements and protests like #HeForShe or #OccupyWallStreet, while organizations like Black Lives Matter rely on it.
Authors like Malcolm Gladwell don’t understand how most millennials use social media. In his short essay, Small Changes: Why the Revolution Won’t be Tweeted, He argues that social media activism is a watered down form of real activism and those who use Twitter or Facebook to share a post do not actually do anything. He denies that social media actually brings people together, stating that it only creates “weak ties,” while real activism requires devotion and personal investment in the cause.
Gladwell argues that these social media activists only post on the internet and that liking a post or pressing the share button creates no real social change.
He goes on to claim that change against institutions can only be made in real life—real risk situations. He states that the new wave of social media activists lack the discipline and strategy of old school activists.
I disagree completely. Social media helps get the word out and will occasionally give news outlets their biggest headlines. Hashtags about Mike Brown, Anton Sterling, Trayvon Martin, and Sandra Bland all developed on social media. If these young activists had not been making as much noise on the internet as they did, major news outlets probably would not have covered those stories. Furthermore, social media plays an important role in bringing awareness to causes which anger and motivate people to do something about the injustices they see and hear about.
Gladwell, like many others, dislikes social media because it is something new to him. Social media allows for people all over the world to see these injustices immediately. Instead of word of mouth, the story is spread with viral videos, hashtags, and blogs. The tools we use to mobilize and act on these injustices may have changed, but the motivations are still the same. Social media has given birth to and helped many strategic organizations as well (i.e., the #HeForShe movement and Black Lives Matter). Yes, face-to face meetings might have a greater impact on galvanizing the immediate crowd, but the written word is just as powerful and can be disseminated faster and translated into many languages, therefore reaching, and potentially mobilizing more people. Strategies can also be written down and spread across social media to help different groups of people organize in different places.
One thing that Gladwell and social activists do agree on is that real activism works best when there is personal investment in a cause—real change requires real commitment. Hashtags and blog posts on social media allow the interests to always be on the forefront of our minds because chances are Facebook and Twitter are talking about it even if Fox and CNN are ignoring it. Social media has the power to transcend racial, socioeconomic and international boundaries to unite many in a common goal allowing people to organize and make real institutional change.
The young poet Donte Collins says, “young revolutionary/ take care of yourself/ you cannot eat your angst/ nor survive on song alone/ recharge yourself then charge the people.” Donte beautifully explains that the millennial generation often takes to social media because they feel that their voices are not being heard. Collins is calling out to these young activists, letting them know that he hears and understands the different struggles. Sometimes the uphill battle seems like too much, that they don't have enough of an impact or that nothing will really change. But as Gladwell said, it take times and commitment for change to occur. Rome wasn't built in a day. Collins also raises another important aspect of social media: at the very least social media spreads hope. Whether it is a blog post that lists charities or organizations you can donate to for a cause or a show of solidarity by changing your profile picture to a pride flag, every tweet, hashtag or post spreads hope.
In other instances, trends like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge have helped raise awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (a neurodegenerative muscle disease) and raised over $15 million in a few short weeks. Remember that small changes can make a big difference. Gladwell’s so-called revolution will absolutely be tweeted. It will also flood Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Tumblr.
Allow your voices to be heard, post your social commentary, use Facebook to call your friends and family to action, tweet about equity and racial injustice at your school and when things start looking bleak, rest. Take care of yourself—then pick up the mantle and start again.
So rest your head my young revolutionaries, then wake up tomorrow and start a tweetstorm to rival the likes of both Kanye and Trump.
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