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Is social media killing activism?


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About James

I have lived a lot of years and the more years I have lived, the fewer answers i have found. I hope that by engaging here we can discover some answers together.


Does making a comment actually make a difference?

I was surveying the posts on my Facebook feed during the week and stumbled across a post of a segment from the Channel 7 ‘News’. The story was all about the bashing of a young man, a thug. The comments on the story were nothing more than venting and the inarticulate articulation of emotional condemnation and summary judgement.

Are you tired of armchair activists? (Image: Shutterstock).

Are you tired of armchair activists? (Image: Shutterstock)

Many things stood out to me about this post and the responses. Firstly, the people commenting were willing to accept what I like to call ‘infotainment’ published by a commercial television station, almost without question. This is surely a threat to the democratic process.

Secondly, commenters were only too happy to convict and sentence the apparent perpetrator by way of summary judgement, arrived at through emotion rather than thought and reason. This might be a sign that the people commenting may not deserve democracy.

When I suggested that both behaviours were risky, the response from the ‘intellectual giants’ was that they were trying to influence government policy by making their opinions clear on social media. The strategy was apparently predicated on a view that politicians were reading the comments and would act according to their insights.

The idea that politicians would be reading their comments is incredibly absurd. Even if those politicians did read it, thinking they would pay any attention to a Facebook comment and act upon the opinions in the comment, is incredibly naive. Why would any politician pay attention to 6 angry men who were making little sense and may or may not have been expressing a commonly held view? They obviously would not.

The fact is however, this is not what they were doing. They were commenting because they were tribal and emotional. They were commenting because they thought they were founts of wisdom. They were commenting because they were emotional about a dreadful act. They may even have been commenting because they were frightened they might be the victim one day.

They were certainly not protesting. The suggestion that they were trying to influence government policy was a rationalisation of their emotive and largely unthinking behaviour. They may even have been embarrassed about the lack of intellectual rigour they had displayed. If not, they should have been.

That aside the suggestion that they might have been using Facebook as a platform for protest does raise the question as to the extent that social media is now used by arm chair protesters and the extent to which this is diminishing meaningful protest. My guess is that social media has spawned a new breed of protestor who thinks they can change the world from an arm chair.

It is interesting to note that when I offered to go with any one or more of those commenting to go and see the Attorney General and in so doing take meaningful action, not one of these brave protesters even mentioned my offer. So, I repeated my suggestion and received the same response.

It might be argued that protestors have changed many things in this country, including community attitudes to the Vietnam war, the Franklin River development, and most recently community attitudes towards same sex marriage. It can be argued that in recent times social media has been a useful adjunct to protest, as was the case in Egypt and Libya during the Arab Spring. I believe it cannot however be argued, successfully at least, that that arm chair protesting through social media ever changed anything.

So, is social media killing social activism?

No, it is not!

Social activism has always been rare. Few people are able or willing to think things through clearly enough to mount a coherent activist campaign. Further those that are and do, are more often than not too lazy to make it happen. It involves getting out of their armchair.

Social activism has always been the preserve of the few.

Social media comment of the type I am referring to is occasionally positioned by intellectual lightweights as activism, but it is not activism, because they are not in any way shape of form activists. They are unthinking, lazy people, usually men, venting, substantiating the stereotype of the angry old man.

I too had failings in this debate. As my father said, often, in a battle of wits it is folly to fight with an unarmed man. I also picked a fight when there was no need and no potential benefit.

As it turns out, the Channel 7 story seemed to have some credibility and the aggressor pleaded guilty and was sentenced accordingly. He has experienced due process and it would seem that despite all my huffing and puffing, democracy and justice were served.

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