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How solid is your solidarity?

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.

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A 100 likes, 50 comments and an overworked newsfeed :)

Recently while updating my Facebook profile, which I do very rarely now because Facebook is a massive distraction, a number of “stories” popped up on my news feed. Many of these were of photographs, philosophically indulgent quotes and then…more photographs. Clicking on one of these links I soon found myself staring at a huge number of “likes”,an equally big number of inane comments by a variety of people and a few more creative responses like”Thank you :D” and “Love you too!!(saccharine smiley face)”
Now by no means do I object to the use (or voluntary overuse) of Facebook or any other social media, but I’ve begun wondering whether spending so much time in the virtual world is healthy. Admittedly social media has done (initial) wonders for my parents’ generation and others, with all the reconnecting, but in my generation’s case its usage seems to be downright rude and invasive. A Facebook “friend list” may be three thousand people strong but an actual friend list would be perhaps ten people strong. So effectively any poor, overworked news feed continues to give all of us information on the lives of irrelevant individuals who we have (probably) forgotten exist.
The other major feel-bad moment about social media is when real people would rather interact with the virtual “you”,than the real one sitting opposite them, for whatever reason. While talking to a friend or relative,for example,one often finds that they’d rather be talking to their (smart)phones or checking in on their virtual life . How do I know?
Because I most unfortunately succumbed to that very habit when I bought my first smartphone and while I was in the depths of virtual-world induced joy, I failed to notice exactly how unhappy this was making those people who actually wanted to know the “real” me.
Another thing to note (especially for students) about overuse of social media is that it is subtly dangerous.Very dangerous. Especially in the hands of exceptionally bored individuals. On a personal level it can make one very insecure and self-absorbed due to the continuous update of minute information. Online individuals can disguise themselves as different personalities, portray themselves very differently from their real persona and carry with themselves the ability to wreak total havoc. In fact this whole “Anonymously posting nasty comments about others” trend takes bullying and plain old nastiness to a whole different level. If you really hate someone say it to their faces (if you have the guts) or just avoid them in all the ways you think you can (if you don’t want to “court controversy”). Doing it through other people or forums is just plain cowardly and spiteful. A complete contrast to the ” Online Anonymous Nastiness” is the concept of “Anonymous Compliments” while making individuals feel good in that whole “you’ve got people rooting for you!” way, which is a great stand alone concept, begins to feel a little dry, pointless and cowardly after a point of time. If you want compliment a person, why not say it straight to their face? In fact communication of compliments directly will make the concerned person feel LOADS better than an anonymous compliment because now they know who is rooting for them and who to rely on “when the going gets tough”, which ultimately is a great thing for anyone to feel!