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Social media is used 24/7, 365. From desktop computers and laptops to apps for Iphones, we are constantly inundated with information about the lives of our friends and associates and the lives of celebrities. Generally speaking, it seems that social media is mainly used to engage in and promote self-aggrandizing activity. Unfortunately, due to this saturation of navel gazing, it ignores how social media can and is being used in a revolutionary fashion.
Due to the lack of minorities and women in the mainstream media, in terms of both ownership and representation, marginalized groups have often had to use the internet as a way to get out their message, to get out their version of events. Social media is often been the place to do this. The use of social media to create safe spaces and create a dialogue among marginalized people can be seen in such pages as Black Girl Dangerous (BGD). BGD, according to their website, “seeks to, in as many ways possible, amplify the voices, experiences and expressions of queer and trans* people of color.” They have featured numerous articles from LGBT+ people of color, a group that is consistently ignored by the mainstream media. Simply by having BGD exist, it allows for a marginalized groups voice to be greatly amplified and bring the spotlight on the unique issues that they face.
Social media has also allowed people to organize and become aware of actions, demonstrations, and protests that they would otherwise not know about. For example, I recently went to a Newark public school walk out demonstration to stand in solidarity with the students who were protesting budgets and the implementation of charter schools. The only reason that I knew of this was due to the fact that the Anarchist Memes page on Facebook had created a post about it, linking to relevant information.
The promotion of radical politics is another use of social media, such as with the Facebook page Black Autonomy Federation. The organization wants to “[promote] class based grassroots anti-authoritarian struggle, Self Determination for The Black Community & Autonomy and Liberation for the oppressed worldwide.” This promotion of radical politics allows people to learn about alternatives to the conservative-liberal political dichotomy and lets them see that there are other ways of organizing society, that there are political views and ideas that are much more compatible with their current situation.
The use of social media has also allowed for people to create a dialogue with formerly untouchable individuals. A most recent example of this is when Colbert Report Twitter sent out the joke: "I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever." While the joke was sent out of its specific context, it still greatly angered a number of Asian-Americans. Suey Park, a writer, started up the hashtag #CancelColbert in response to the offensive joke. This hashtag gained massive coverage and a number of articles were written about it, even resulting in Park co-writing an opinion piece for Time. No matter what one thinks of the situation, they cannot deny that social media had a major impact in allowing people such as Suey Park to talk back.
Yet, among all of this usage of social media to organize, talk back, and create safe spaces, there have been troubles. Earlier this year Facebook shut down the Anarchist Memes page on the grounds that it had been flagged too many times for violating the company’s Community Standards and its Statements of Rights and Responsibilities. A number of incidents had occurred, from posting “a picture of a Klansman who had accidentally set himself, instead of a large wooden cross, on fire, accompanied by the words ‘IRONY, it strikes at the best of times’” to posting a pro-transgender graphic, with the picture simply reading ‘Some Women Have Penises. Get Over it.” These and other incidents led to the page being banned, however Facebook pages encouraging rape and racism, are consistently reported, but rarely is action taken against them.
Now, while this is quite important for the aforementioned reasons, we also have to realize that even though social media activism has its uses, it is not enough. Social media activism “doesn’t require that you confront socially entrenched norms and practices. In fact, it’s the kind of commitment that will bring only social acknowledgment and praise.” At the end of the day, while social media is great for getting information and having discussions, it still does not require one to put anything on the line, it does not require someone to get out in the streets and march or organize.
However, there are ways to change this and to get people out in the streets. What needs to occur is a combination of online and traditional activism. Black Girl Dangerous is doing this to great effect. BGD is organizing a summer program for queer and trans people of color in which the goal is to, through “writing, dreaming, screaming, owning up, and facing who we are, who we have been, and who we might become,” create “an emotional revolution that will reverberate throughout our lives and our communities.” By giving queer and trans people of color a physical space to connect and learn to about themselves, it is empowering people.
If we want a social and political revolution to occur, we need to utilize all of the tools at our disposal, but we must know how to use those tools in the most effective manner with the end goal of organizing people to get out into the streets and protest and to create alternatives to the current system.
1: Free Press, Diversity in Media Ownership, http://www.freepress.net/diversity-media-ownership
2: Riva Gold, “Newsroom Diversity: A Casualty of Journalism's Financial Crisis,” The Atlantic, July 9, 2013 (http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/07/newsroom-diversity-a-casualty-of-journalisms-financial-crisis/277622/)
3: Black Girl Dangerous, About BGD, http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/about-bgd/
4: Black Autonomy Federation, About, http://www.facebook.com/BlackAutonomyFederation/info
5: Meredith Blake, “#CancelColbert: Stephen Colbert accused of racism over Asian tweet,” LA Times, March 28, 2014 (http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/tv/showtracker/la-et-stephen-colbert-accused-of-racism-over-asian-tweet-20140328,0,3484421.story#axzz2ytCNiUTG)
6: Eunsong Kim, Suey Park, “Anti-Racism Activists on Colbert: We Will Protest This Until It Ends,” Time, April 10, 2014 (http://time.com/58743/cancelcolbert-activists-we-will-protest-this-until-it-ends/)
7: Ben Norton, “Fascist Facebook?” Counterpunch, January 10, 2014 (http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/01/10/fascist-facebook/)
8: Jared Keller, “This Hashtag Kills Fascists: Does Social Media Activism Actually Work?” Al Jazeera America, April 2, 2014 (http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/4/2/hashtag-activismcancelcolbert.html)
9: Black Girl Dangerous, Get Free: A Summer Program For Queer and Trans Youth of Color, http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/get-free-summer-program-queer-trans-youth-color/
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