Social media sees itself as a force of change. Yet tangible change rarely happens online.
If the thousands of people posting about George Floyd truly wish for change, they must broaden their horizons beyond social media. They must have a passion for racial equality that extends beyond Instagram and Twitter.
The role of social media in activism is complex. Used in the right way, it can be an overwhelmingly powerful mechanism to raise awareness and support for social issues. This awareness is significant. It spurs on protests and galvanises social movements.
Nevertheless, there is an evident danger in the relationship between social media and activism. This danger is that it devalues passion. The recent wave of social media support for George Floyd has demonstrated this danger. This topical issue analogises the broader issue that the modern age has created a desperation to be an ‘all-rounder’. This desperation is motivated from online expectations. These expectations demand constant engagement with popular culture, beauty standards and most of all, constant action against all forms of injustice.
Yet why does our culture alienate those who focus their energy on just one thing? Martin Luther King was not criticised for focusing solely on black rights. Simone de Beauvoir was not attacked for emphasising the importance of gender equality. But 2020 judges people on a higher standard — yet it is a standard that is unachievable.
Passion is what is most important for change
True and tangible change is achieved by dedication. It is achieved by commitment — be it time or money. This dedication is inspired by passionate belief in a cause, not by social media trends. The analytical nature of passion demands focus. Passion is an ‘extreme interest’ by definition. Social media encourages the opposite of this — it promotes impermanence. It promotes minimal interest in the maximum number of things. What this creates is a satisfaction of self-interest. What it does not create is legitimately helpful activism.
The relationship between social media and activism is not however, what we should focus on. Rather, it is the relationship between passion and action. Action is the flame. Passion is both the spark and the oxygen. It ignites action, whilst also maintaining its presence. It is responsible for inspirational acts, motivated towards making tangible change. A 19-year-old girl inspired by current events, merges her passion for fashion and justice making clothes to raise money for stand up to racism UK. She believes in action ‘to change the negative aspects of our society’. A 21-year-old-girl inspired by her own struggles of eating disorders starts a blog, highlighting the damaging aspects of the media. These girls are passionate and dedicated, and consequently have the opportunity to make a legitimate difference.
Focusing on racial issues for a week by endless posts on social media and then focusing on the next ‘popular’ or ‘trendy’ issue is wholly unhelpful, and to a certain extent, immoral. The recent ‘blackout Tuesday’ movement saw 22 million black squares posted. The petition which demands justice for George Floyd has 12 million signatures. This petition has the hope of change. Posting a black square, however, is a superficial form of armchair activism. Moreover, it hindered the ability of social media to provide sources of information about the Black Lives Matter movement.
It is necessary to be sceptical about the benefits of social media. Too often it supports performative activism, rather than a legitimate care for the issue at hand. Too often it places pressure on young people to have an interest in all things. Too often it is judging young people for not using online platforms as a source of change.
Social media is one resource that may be used for change. It is in no way the be-all and end-all. Yet with the foundation of passion, social media can be used as a force for good. It can be a platform which raises awareness and provides knowledge of social issues. However, its attitude towards activism must be reformed. Activism must never be limited to social media. Activism must never be inspired by social media. Activism must prioritise passion.