If social media were a person, it could very justifiably claim that it can do anything and everything. From generating awareness (and money) for Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) to trying to #BringBackOurGirls, social media seems to have its foot in every kind of activist campaign. The shootings at the offices of French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, on January 7 2015, catalysed another much talked about Twitter campaign: #JeSuisCharlie. Multiple people (French or not) changed their Facebook profile pictures to a banner stating the same. But are you really Charlie? And honestly, did you know about ALS before the (in) famous ice-bucket challenge took off? I didn’t and, while I could be accused of gross ignorance, I shouldn’t be expected to know everything about every crisis in the world. Neither should anyone else.
The main problem with social media activism is that it makes it far too easy to express solidarity. Living in Toronto, I can condemn the shootings or the abduction of the Nigerian girls by simply changing a status. But it is impossible for me to really feel the pain of individuals who their family members or the shock felt by an average Parisian after an attack in his or her city. Arguably, it is disrespectful to these people. Diana Moukalled, a Web Editor at Future Television (Lebanon), examined social media activism writing that “we feel obliged to express ourselves or react in some way, for when you are silent in the world of social media, you wither away and cease to exist.” The fear of metaphorically dying in a constructed, unreal world should not spur your sympathy: that would be the epitome of the term ‘crocodile tears’.
People deserve the benefit of doubt, so it is safe to assume that when most people heard about these events they were genuinely moved by the news. I use the term to cover a wide range of feelings: you may be “moved” by this article and would want to throw something at its writer. Yet it is much easier to type out and post a hashtag or to change a status or a profile picture than actually do something to change the circumstances. Therefore a social media activists’ outrage or grief is momentary: once it is online they can move onto the next crisis. That said, there are a few people who consistently use social media to constantly raise awareness about various issues. And the effort is truly admirable, because most of us couldn’t do it. Social media is capable of miraculous things, such as raising more than 15 million dollars for the fight against ALS. It has indisputably succeeded in raising awareness about a plethora of issues.
Life does not end with awareness: instead of posting a video of yourself pouring a bucket of ice (yes, its plain ice not cold water- ICE bucket folks) on someone else’s head or your own donate some money to the research foundation. Or do both, as many celebrities have been doing. While telling a bunch of strangers from some stage in your life that you are an upstanding member of society fighting for freedom of speech, try and create a non-judgemental, discussion friendly environment in your social circles. And if you can’t do either of those things do the people, who are actually affecting change around the many issues you regularly post about, a favour and stop pretending that you care. We could all do with a less overworked Newsfeed.