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Does Social Media Make Us Better at Social Justice or Lazier?

There’s nothing wrong with being passionate on social media. But if you really want to get involved in social justice, it requires much more than a “like” and a “share.”

(Photo: Unsplash)

By Kenneth Reid

I recently read a book called “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson. It’s about prison reform and it specifically highlights some major problems with how we currently do capitol punishment. It was inspiring and eye-opening. It’s difficult to describe how I felt when I finished the book, though. I was excited to have gained new knowledge, but heart-broken over the sad realities I learned. I was motivated to get involved with social justice, but also felt somewhat helpless by such a daunting problem.

As I closed in on the final paragraphs of the book I couldn’t help but wonder, What do I do now?

I wanted to respond. I wanted to help. I wanted to spread the word. But how? I’m not a lawyer like Bryan Stevenson. I’m not a politician. I don’t work for a non-profit organization that’s involved in the criminal justice system. I’m just a guy working nine to five trying to feed his family.

What can I do to help encourage and propel social justice?

Maybe you’ve read books, skimmed articles, listened to podcasts or watched documentaries that have made you feel this way. You want to get involved but you’re not sure how. Surely there’s something you can do.

Enter social media.

Social media seemed to present a way for the layperson who doesn’t fight injustice for a living to help save the world: it’s accessible to nearly everyone and has made many of us feel empowered to help make a difference.

But is it really as effective as we like to think it is?

When it comes to fighting injustice via social media, there are three questions we need to answer.

The first question: does it actually work?

This question is hard to answer because the data can go both ways. For example, “New Statesman,” a British magazine, did a study on the ten most shared petitions in the UK in 2016, showing that all of them were ultimately unsuccessful on a national or legislative level.

If your activism costs you nothing more than the click of a button, it’s just slacktivism.

On the other hand, viral movements such as #MeToo clearly provoked reactions from every individual who was accused, whether positive or negative, and served as a warning to those not yet accused.

What seems to be the case is that using hashtags and status updates to promote social justice does a better job at influencing individuals than it does at influencing legislation.

The second question: Does it actually work?

The second question is really the more important one.

Does using social media to fight for social justice provoke us to become more or less involved in justice initiatives in the future?

Statistically, there does seem to be a slightly positive impact of social media on social justice initiatives. But ultimately, the stats are not what matters. The question we should really be asking ourselves is, “What impact does social media have on my involvement in social justice personally?”

The final question: Slacktivism or Micro-activism?

Slacktivism” is a term that describes an approach to fighting injustice by signing petitions, using trending hashtags and sharing content such as articles and videos via social media. It’s called slacktivism because it doesn’t cost you money, time or any real effort. In other words, you can be a slacker and still participate.

So, ask yourself: are you a Slacktivist or are you a Micro-activist?

Slacktivism and Micro-activism are both similar in that they both mean activism on a small scale. The real difference is that micro-activism doesn’t stop with a click of a button. Sure, you might share an article here and there, but micro-activism also means getting involved, not just ranting on Facebook or Twitter. If your activism costs you nothing more than the click of a button, it’s just slacktivism.

Is social media one of many ways we get involved in social justice, or is it just our way of making a statement with no intention of backing up our beliefs with actions that really cost us something?

This is a question, which—in the honesty of our own being—we must answer for ourselves. May the answer we find spur us each to real and true action.

This article originally appeared on LightWorkers.


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