The Problem with Online Activism Today

We live in times of great political and economic turmoil. Questions that have been pushed back till now are being asked on public platforms and many are unable to answer. There is also the rise of alternate ideologies, identities, and other categories which are challenging traditions and cultures, and rightly so.  An intrinsic part of our current culture is activism and social media engagement with issues in the world. Problems such as discrimination, violence, and abuse are talked about greatly and much needed debates held, often in the comments section of posts. While there is meaningful engagement, many activist pages on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are littered with comments of vitriolic language, multiple opinions, and yelling. While discussions are useful, one has to stop and wonder whether this is the best to go about bringing change.

Most of the social media today is usually seen protesting or talking about an issue. Posts are shared and people are called out. But we have to be mindful that it does not lead to a kind of elitism where only those who are educated in the ‘woke’ culture can speak. There has to be respectful space for dissent and dialogue that is inclusive of even opposing views. It is saddening that there is an increasing group of people who limit their activism to what they do online. We tend to become comfortable once we have posted something on a public platform and wait for approval from others. We shape our words in such a way that it will have a lot of impact or even invite debate. Once we have a debate going, it is often the sensational value of it rather than what is being said that is the focus. And this approach might be detrimental to true engagement. Such online activism also allows many to feel like they are actually doing something to change the status of things in the real world. This doesn’t mean that raising awareness online or speaking about it is unnecessary or useless but also shows that if our activism ends after posting something and ranting about it, we have changed nothing. It is a mechanism to gain emotional satisfaction especially in a culture that is oriented towards getting things done quickly and seeking instant gratification. Actually engaging on the ground is a messy affair and requires patience, perseverance, ability to listen, and also to accommodate. But we do not like those things and it is much more convenient to talk about discrimination sitting on our couches typing on our high-end laptop while watching Netflix. This is to be expected with the virtual world indulgence that we have but we need to realize that just because we enjoy something or think something is good does not mean that it is good.

A desire to change things is necessary and essential. But when we live in a culture geared towards justice but often becoming hateful in the process, unless we are able to see beyond our own opinions, look for objective frames of reference, and listen to those who have been systemically discriminated against, and then get onto practicing what we say in real life, no amount of sharing posts or shouting will change much. We have to learn to respond intelligently, with love and concern, rather than react spontaneously with anger and then stop with that. Unless we learn to do that, no matter how wronged we feel, the ultimate result of our campaign wouldn’t be effecting change but creating another kind of exclusivity which might not solve the problem at all.

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