The shortcomings of social media as a tool for change

Social media is ineffective in creating civil change. Social media has created a variety of different ways to bring awareness to causes through activism, with some recent examples being the Black Lives Matter movement and the #MeToo movement. There are a myriad ways to create change, such as participating in social media campaigns, resharing posts and creating virtual communities to voice thoughts and opinions. Although social media can have its positive impacts, social media is able to spread information that people may not have been aware of before and there are many negative consequences that may come from this type of participation. Overall, the downsides of social media activism far outway the potential positives.

One of the main platforms people use to participate in activism is Instagram; a person can see what problems people care about by looking at stories that people have reposted. According to a Review 42 article, younger people tend to spend more than three hours a day on social media. The dependence on technology has become more and more drastic throughout our everyday lives. This has become especially true after quarantine, where we’ve had all the time to be on screens. 

As a result of this increased screen time, people used social media as a way to spread activism. Posting on social media is very straightforward when you come to think about it.  Posting anything in support of a cause is as simple as one click. But this begs the question: does this activism actually mean anything to the people that post it? Teens, for example, have a tendency to repost items that their friends or people they know share on their media platforms. It comes to a point where we have to question how it is making them feel and create a change through activism; is it just about fitting in rather than actually caring about a cause? This leads to performative activism, because people are only posting to appeal to their followers and to make them feel satisfied with the optics of their posts. Social media is also an opportunity to learn new things and for people to connect to what they are learning and brings up different perspectives.

“I think, in its entirety, [social media activism is] ineffective, but I do believe it brings a new point of view to people,” freshman Maeve O’Connor says. ”People can see new things and understand new news stories through social media without having to pick up a book or having to pick up a newspaper and look on the news, and, at the same time, it’s ineffective. You might not be getting a full story on what you’re seeing, and just by seeing a little bit of [the story], you’re not fully understanding what’s happening or exactly what you’re reading and reposting, because you could be sharing something harmful, or you could be sharing false information, because not everything online is true.”

There tends to lack credibility and legitimacy since many people just post for the sake of posting and not to actually create civil change in social media, which inevitably brings up the issue of performance activism. Social media activism then has nothing to do with reality, because it spreads so fast without people paying attention or looking for the actual reasons behind it. Oftentimes, there are no tangible actions behind these posts, leaving people stuck in a constant cycle of posting and reposting. They do so without following up on anything, to the point where this sense of activism and accomplishment yet again proves the performativity of social media. 

Social media is effective in some cases, such as the climate walkout at ETHS, because it’s using social media to leverage information about an event. However activism should not stop online; sustainable activism should extend beyond this and should be applied around the community and our school in other ways such as, taking breaks from social media during the day and not just reposting because you saw it on your peers social media.