“Are you an Internet activist, or are you a real one?”
By Rebecca Katz
JCUA Teen Programs Coordinator
By questioning recently whether a Facebook post can be counted as activism, Rabbi Joshua Salter, of the Southwest Organizing Program (SWOP), concisely articulated the challenge that has been rattling around my head. Can social media truly be used as an effective tool to create systemic social change? In posting, sharing, and liking on Facebook, are we building a modern movement of youth activists, or we only publicly signaling we are a part of the new cool trend of social consciousness?
It is now cool to care, or to at least appear to do so — nothing is real anymore unless there is evidence on Facebook. Is activism merely following the unnatural, but unstoppable Web-based evolution of our social lives?
To find out, I naturally turned to the very form I am questioning, Facebook, to get some answers from Jewish teen leaders who recently participated in JCUA’s Or Tzedek program.
I am still undecided whether my use of the medium demonstrates the effectiveness of it to facilitate meaningful dialogue or that I have lost the art of phone conversation. Judge for yourself, based on the comments I received:
Emily Isaacson So many people post their beliefs, rationale, and opinions on a wide variety of topics on the Internet. Facebook and the Internet are webs of information that allow people to share and view ideas that are not necessarily the mainstream point of view.
Ilana Esther Not to mention it’s a great way to get younger people involved.
Eliana Glickman [On Facebook] people see what you “like,” so then they click on it and awareness is spread…People now have the idea jammed into their brain. It can’t leave…it’s there in your brain and you know what they’re protesting.
Rebecca Katz Activists can use social media to broadcast instances of injustice that the “mainstream” media ignore. But is Facebook actually creating a counter-narrative of our generation that leads to real change? Or is any effect as ephemeral as a facebook status?
Elizabeth Barras I think that one can be a Facebook / Internet activist but only up to a certain point. Spreading the word about a certain cause through Facebook and the Internet is an amazing idea, but there’s only so much that someone can do online.
Emily Isaacson Regarding liking articles, as much as that shows your support of an idea and can make the article appear on your friends’ newsfeed, “liking” is a passive form of acknowledgement. It is widely overused on Facebook (I, myself, am guilty to that). So, as much as Internet activism does promote ideas, and activists can get their message heard and be successful, my impression is that it appears to be more successful than it actually is.
Rebecca Katz It is a medium with set parameters for communication. Ideally, the Internet will spark action, but is not an action within itself. I do not “like” when immigration justice activists are arrested for coming out about their undocumented status, but Facebook does not provide a “solidarity” button.
Sophie Leff Social action through social media is couch potato social action. It makes me very angry because even though media does serve to raise awareness up to a point it soon begins to replace actual activism and even eclipse the existence of it.
Emily Isaacson Many people don’t realize that, although it seems like you have the world at your fingertips, the unbelievable amount of information on the Internet makes it so that all you see is what you want to see. Sometimes activists only reach the people that want to be reached, which in my opinion is not really the most productive form of activism.
Sophie Leff How can we possibly expect someone to get up and do something after seeing our status update about housing justice if we don’t do so ourselves?
Eliana Glickman Not everybody follows through, but people can be inspired.
Rebecca Katz What am I truly investing of myself when I spend five seconds writing a comment? Social media rely on the immediate gratification of status updates and comments, contrary to the often grueling haul of creating systemic change.
Sophie Leff What people share on social media, they tend to share for its shock value, not for its meaningfulness, which really prohibits us from getting at the root of the issue.
Rebecca Katz Can a meme summarize the complexity of our individual and communal stories, whether they are ones of privilege, discrimination, or, most likely, some convoluted combination of both? Without trust as the foundation of those challenging conversations, how do we take the next step towards collective action?
Sophie Leff As you might be able to tell this is something that really angers me… They are temporary solutions and easy ways to cop out of really understanding the issue at hand and doing something significant to help solve it. Let’s not only raise awareness for poverty, let’s patch the economic divide that creates it.
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