Leading doesn’t happen on the sidelines
Posted On June 12, 2023
Can online social media activism be meaningful and worthwhile? The short answer is yes, absolutely. But, here are my thoughts about it…
With social media (SM) being an integral part of our current society’s means of influence, there is no doubt that using SM platforms for activism is a meaningful and worthwhile venture. This point is underscored when “regular” media is highly politicized and prioritizes stories based on the ratings it will get them. ANYWAY, whether we like it or not, we are all influencers on some level on SM…some of us just don’t get paid to do it, unfortunately. Even in a small SM network, what we choose (or choose not) to post, share, comment on, and support all tells our “people” what we stand for and against, “increasing visibility”, making it meaningful and worthwhile. Will this sometimes rock the boat? Will this sometimes change others’ opinions/perceptions of us for better or worse? Should you stand up for what you believe in anyway despite the possible repercussions? Yes, yes, and yes! Taking it further, if people in positions of societal power (referring to those with a lot of followers therefore a longer social reach) attach or associate themselves with a certain cause, there is a positive domino effect that results, proving it to be a worthy act. A Time article I read asking if a celebrity’s SM activism makes a difference, the ultimate answer is yes celebrities help by sparking awareness and mobilization, proving my point that SM influence makes online activism a worthwhile and meaningful act.
In addition to the influence people on SM can have in calling attention to certain topics, there is an entire avenue of visibility and community that spawns from different aspects of SM. For example, hashtags create notably vast communities, taking a topic/cause to the global scale. Hashtags can also provide visibility in terms of pictures posted to portray the lived experience of those experiencing the inequity/injustice who do not have the privilege of SM, as noted in the Maryville University article. Even if someone only goes so far as to support a social justice campaign online, there is still positive that comes from it because it may be the catalyst for another person to become a participatory citizen and be involved offline.
Is it possible to have productive conversations about social justice online?
Conversations and interactions about social justice is the hard work about caring or spreading awareness about a cause because you will constantly be met with opposition and criticism…and trolls. This hard work is tough enough in the physical world, let alone the online world. Some of the trickiest pieces of online conversations about social justice (or any online interaction) is
a) intended tone is sometimes difficult to read
b) we have the ability to NOT respond because it is not F2F, yet, if we are involved with something it is clear we are passionate about it and therefore it is difficult to not be on defence. And, in addition to the fact that not responding will justify the naysayer’s comment, not responding or following up removes us from doing the hard work of creating change and understanding.
Having said this, it is possible to be respectful in interactions when met with differing opinions and experiences. The comment thread on Katia’s blog post is a great example of this; in the end, there are people with views and perspectives that do not align, nor will they, yet a respectful conversation can in fact happen.
Just a little tip: if a troll happens to throw a toddler-like tantrum in the online conversation, don’t get ‘mad like troll’, maybe just direct them to a youtube video for breathing exercises to calm down.
Our responsibility as educators to model active citizenship online:
I have said this before, but our critical thinking skills when using SM is absolutely crucial. Being able to decipher what actions will help rather than hurt a cause is important too. As we discussed in class, sometimes intentions are good but isn’t reflected in the action (with the example of #blackouttuesday inundating the hashtag/cause not in a somewhat harmful way to the purpose). We also have to be careful as to not performatively align ourselves with a cause because it “looks good” for a teacher to do so. With having the free will to create our own online world and persona, if nothing else, authenticity must be at the core of our actions. For modelling active citizenship, I don’t consistently voice my opinion or support social justice movements on SM, although after reading Katia’s blog post, I think I should. I chose to become a teacher, knowing the implication of modelling behaviour both at and outside of school. The progression of SM has simply expanded the platform and privilege for teachers to lead by example and inform. I don’t need to psychoanalyze all my reasons for not being a fully active digital citizen up to this point, rather simply shift my mindset away from fear of being active to “look at all the good you can do” by being an active digital citizen and remind myself that part of my job as a teacher and as a person is to lead by example and leading doesn’t happen on the sidelines. A focus of mine going forward will be to expand the social justice accounts I follow on personal SM and to speak up more.