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The Problems with Social Media Based Activism and How to Improve Them

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Suffolk chapter.

In the current age of political activism and social media use, many of us have become increasingly politically aware due to the media we consume on a daily basis. With the rapid growth of online activity, many sources of current activism have been social media based. Whether it be colorful infographics or comment threads about political topics, we are all familiar with seeing political content on our feeds. However, it is important to ask ourselves how effective our media use is regarding fostering political and social change. The truth is, several issues come with using social media based activism that exist in the nature of social media itself. In order to improve the effectiveness of our political activity, we must acknowledge these issues and take action to improve them.

The Oversharing of Opinions

The way we use social media today strongly encourages us to spread our thoughts and opinions. This ability can definitely be really great in terms of fostering discussion with different groups of people. However, when we are constantly encouraged to record our thoughts and make them visible to others, we sometimes prioritize talking over listening in terms of ideas. This can make it difficult to hear other opinions properly. In addition, when everyone is expected to share their thoughts and opinions, it compels people to speak even when they do not have the knowledge to, leading to the spread of misinformation. Overall, social media’s design creates an environment where people are encouraged to share without listening to others or having full knowledge of a subject. In turn, this spreads misinformation and creates a crowded, messy feed, making it challenging to foster effective political or social change.

In order to improve upon this issue, it is essential that we have a conscious awareness of the problem and take personal steps to change our activity. More specifically, making an effort to listen to others and holding back thoughts before being informed on an issue can make a real difference in the oversharing of opinions online, helping political discussion be more useful.

A Performative Alternative to Activism

Secondly, another issue with social media in regards to political change is the performative element to activism on the internet. When presenting an aspect of ourselves to an audience, there is almost always a level of performance to it, especially when on social media. However, the issue with online performance is that the validation we receive from it is ongoing, so it becomes difficult to put an end to. In regards to political activity, social media often encourages an alternative form of activism, one where thoughts and ideas are simply shared to appear a certain way or maximize the attention it receives. This concept of performative activism does not truly bring any political or social change, as it is simply done for the validation of others. This is dangerous, because some users may not even realize that their political activity is more performative than genuine, so it is crucial that the performative element of online activism is addressed and corrected.

Political activism on the internet can be difficult due to the performative element of social media. However, it can be corrected with the right level of awareness and action. In order to make political activity more genuine, it must go beyond the screen. Ensuring that we are taking steps to carry our activism into our daily lives in addition to using social media can help make our activity more beneficial overall.

The Distortion of Importance

Another issue with social media based political activity lies in the distortion of importance that comes with its design. In other words, social media often presents us with issues or events that are more relevant to us rather than what is more important in general. What we see on our feeds are typically tailored to our specific interests, and this may not always include the issues that truly require our attention. Additionally, social media also prioritizes what gets the most attention over what is most important. Both of these aspects hurt our political activism as we may not always be presented with issues that need to be brought to light. By providing us with news that is entertaining as opposed to important, social media often keeps us in the dark about what is really going on around us, reducing the effectiveness of our political and social activism.

This can be a particularly frustrating element of social media as it can seem out of our control at times. However, we must do what we can to combat the issue. With online political activity, doing individual research is crucial, especially in terms of staying informed with accurate information. Therefore, doing everything we can to stay informed and looking beyond our feeds can make a difference in this problem.

Clearly, social media’s design creates a number of issues in terms of political and social activism. But with the right amount of attention to the problems and the proper action taken to help improve, political activism through social media can become more effective with time and help us work towards genuine change in our world.

Kaviya is a junior studying psychology. Her hobbies include drawing and reading thriller/mystery novels, and she hopes to work in the field of clinical psychology one day.