Digital demonstration: Tweets won't turn the tide

by Reilly Loynd / Beacon Correspondent • September 22, 2016

In the 11th grade, I took a class about the most prominent protest movements of the 1960’s. The class introduced me to the concept of grassroots activism as both a response and a defense mechanism to something or someone that was perceived as unjust.

I grew up with two moms in a town in Vermont that was as small minded as it was sized before gay marriage had been legalized. My family dynamic was considered controversial by many. I grew up advocating and arguing for what I knew was right despite whatever disagreements I may have faced. I’ve been soliciting signatures to legalize gay marriage and attending gay rights movements and pride parades from as early on as I could walk. Although I was raised to strive to generate positive social change wherever I saw fit, I had no idea how to do so beyond the events my moms had taken me to up until that class.

Most of the movements we learned about were started by young people who were dissatisfied with the shift in culture that they witnessed around them. I remember being so awed by the ways in which students, just like me, were capable of organizing huge groups of people who shared the same beliefs to act on them, and furthermore to fight for them, even at the risk of their own lives.

For this reason, when the Black Lives Matter movement first took off later that same year, I was eager to partake in a movement similar to the ones I had learned about from the class. Like many of my peers, I was outraged by the injustices perpetrated against black lives and determined to do something about it.

I later came to find out that the “movement” didn’t actually require much beyond reaching for a nearby phone or laptop to compose a social media post in an attempt to appear socially aware and active to others. The course I had taken made me realize how specific this problem was to our generation. While my mom may have decided to attend regular rallies urging the government to cease their involvement in the Vietnam War, my peers were working to construct brief tweets expressing their anger about various social issues. While the Black Lives Matter movement has since taken off and its success has been largely attributed to its social media presence, the responses to other issues such as the endless and deserved bashing of Brock Turner have remained an internet-only phenomenon. And while memes reading “I’ve had my current tube of mascara for longer than Brock Turner was in jail” are certainly pointed, they don’t aim to take any action or create any change.

In theory, social media is capable of facilitating important conversations about topical issues. However, the social media-oriented response that has been dubbed  “slacktivism” has started to severely stunt our overall involvement as a generation. Our social media saturated world has forced us to shift the ways in which we define civic engagement for ourselves. Young people have started to feel like our civic responsibility has been fulfilled as soon as we post about something that’s upsetting us. But what are we actually doing about what upsets us bring change?  

In order to combat slacktivism, it is essential to embody characteristics of both types of generations. While there are ample resources to get involved, or other volunteer opportunities available to us here in Boston, it is also important to acknowledge the importance and the power of the internet in order to be able to harness it and use it well. One way of doing so is by using the internet to actively advertise opportunities to take action in our community.

If slacktivism has become our generational response to events we wish to speak out about, then we should embrace it. Students should not only post about these important issues, but then continue to talk about them on and offline even after the posts have fallen to the bottom of their newsfeed. This way, the posts are able to raise a lasting conversation that goes beyond the likes and shares. Beyonce’s latest album “Lemonade” made compelling statements about race and gender. Like Queen B, Emerson students can make media too—but it is up to us to continue the conversation beyond our initial posts and to actually attend the events we click, ‘interested,’ on.

It is more important now than ever to learn how to understand and utilize the fullest capabilities of the internet as a catalyst for creating positive social change. Millennials don’t need to abandon their pursuit of more followers; as long as they are using them to promote real change.