Monday, February 24, 2020
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Going Beyond Internet Activism

The flesh of our thumbs sliding upwards on a fluorescent glass screen enables a carousel of images, headlines and videos to flow across it. This experience is all too familiar for the modern person. With a plentitude of apps to rotate around, there are limitless options for the contemporary person to learn and find amusement from. The world of TikTok dances and Snapchat stories is both entertaining and valuable, in a cultural sense. However, our bodies and hearts do not live in this world, and people must remember that social media is a tool, and not a lifestyle. 

The blending of social media and life choices has led to many of these platforms inadvertently becoming representative of their users’ political views. According to a study by Pew Research, almost half of Americans were civically active on social media in 2018. This means that users have engaged in support for causes or have engaged in some kind of protest through social media. Users can now expand their knowledge of the world at large without having to physically step out of their own comfort zone. 

Although social media allows individuals to connect to social issues, users must remember that “liking” and “sharing” posts can have a greater effect if extended beyond this space. While “liking” posts of the Australian bushfire crisis shows solidarity and support for the communities, a “like” from one end of the screen does not guarantee real-world change. Because of this, individuals should not fall into the trap of allowing the social media world to be the only world they interact with. 

Showing support for social or environmental issues, informing friends and family and researching issues are all extremely important and impactful activities. However, people should not settle with double-taps and instead extend these actions to their own personal lives. This passive mode of support via social media is commonly termed as “slacktivism” or “armchair activism,” a term coined by the Washington Post. Slacktivism, “poses a minimal cost” to participants, but also sets them into a mode of staying in this cycle of “liking” rather than doing.

So, how can one extend one’s influence beyond social media and into the real world? According to an article by the Journal of Consumer Research, in order to transform “slacktivists” into activists who enact policy change in the physical world, charities must share their values to the users as much as they promote the cause. However, this work should not only be charities’ responsibilities. Rather, users should realize that their influence and help for the cause they are interested in can take an even more impactful form if they were to extend this help outside of the likes, retweets and shares. By volunteering for causes they are passionate about, they can confront the issues that concern them in the real world. 

In 2018, the average time spent on social networking was 144 minutes a day, according to Broad and Search. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that people spend more time on social media than on other daily activities. If one can contribute at least a small portion of the time used on social media to engaging with the causes and issues that concern them outside of the digital space, then change that happens in the screens could extend its power beyond it. 

Vian Nguyen is an Opinion Intern for the 2020 winter quarter. She can be reached at viantn@uci.edu.