This column is a head-to-head. Read the opposing article "Opinion: Slacktivism discredits Black Lives Matter by making it the latest 'trend'" here.
With the defining social movements of the early 21st century upon us and captivating millions worldwide, we’re constantly reevaluating how we can improve as allies, activists, and conscientious individuals.
Over the past few years social media has played an overwhelmingly positive role in promoting the rise of various social justice currents among its users. Such efforts have hit the mainstream with varying degrees of success; some, like the Twitter hashtags #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo, have become synonymous with the actual causes they represent.
However, methods of online activism such as spreading social media trends, signing petitions and joining virtual organizations related to the cause are being cast as examples of "slacktivism," or “slacker activism,” a term used to disparage such acts of solidarity which are seen as lazy or performative.
Look to #BlackoutTuesday for a recent example. The popular anti-police brutality hashtag, inspired by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, was met with mixed reactions from the wider Black Lives Matter movement when it launched across platforms on June 2. While celebrities who donned the hashtag for the day were accused of co-opting the trend for personal gain, other participants were criticized for not doing enough to advance the movement.
Social media activism is often criticized as a lesser version of the “real thing,” or old-school activism, which includes physically attending protests, staging demonstrations and confronting the opposition in person. That kind of thinking reminds me of all of those articles about how bad and corrosive social media is for us and how we’re all either secret narcissists or sheeple for buying into it.
There’s this cultural contempt for social media. We tend to think of it as this insurmountable monolith, this vague entity operating independently of its user base. We distrust it; the technology seems boundless, potentially destructive. We hate it because we’re so drawn to it. We think it’s doing something to us.
Somehow we sort of collectively forgot that we’re the ones who created the internet; that we’re the ones in control and that we have the power to effect tangible change. We forget that it’s a tool. A network, a superhighway—the “whole digital enchilada,” according to a Wired style guide from 1996. It binds us through the constant spread of information and ideas.
Social media is everywhere, arguably as real as a chair, a book or a protest on the street. It’s all of us. Online activism isn’t inherently self-indulgent or worthless just because the platform is readily accessible and the legwork is low-stakes.
At this point it’s not even a question of whether it can change the world—it’s changing the world every day. And if social media is a tool, this is exactly how we should be using it. Tweet on, young Turks. The new revolution is digital.
This column is a head-to-head. Read the opposing article "Opinion: Social media activism not meant to be strictly 'slacktivism,' new revolutio…
Grace Pulliam is a 19-year-old creative writing senior from Zachary, LA.