The Revolutionary Potential of Social Media

By Devon Douglas-Bowers

 

Social media is used 24/7, 365. From desktop computers and laptops to apps for Iphones, we are constantly inundated with information about the lives of our friends and associates, and the lives of celebrities. Generally speaking, it seems that social media is mainly used to engage in and promote self-aggrandizing activity. Unfortunately, due to this saturation of navel gazing, many ignore how social media can be, and is being, used in a revolutionary fashion.

Due to the lack of minorities and women in mainstream media, in terms of both ownership[1] and representation [2], marginalized groups have turned to the internet as a way to get out their message and their version of events. Social media is often the place to do this. The use of social media to create safe spaces and dialogue among marginalized people can be seen in pages like “Black Girl Dangerous (BGD)”. BGD, according to their website, “seeks to, in as many ways possible, amplify the voices, experiences and expressions of queer and trans* people of color.”[3] They have featured numerous articles from LGBT+ people of color, a group that is consistently ignored by mainstream media. Simply by having outlets like BGD exist, it allows for a marginalized group’s voice to be greatly amplified by providing a spotlight for the unique issues that they face.

Social media has also allowed people to organize and become aware of actions, demonstrations and protests that they would otherwise not know about. For example, I recently went to a Newark public school walk-out demonstration to stand in solidarity with the students who were protesting budgets and the implementation of charter schools. Had it not been for a public post made by the “Anarchist Memes” page on Facebook, I would not have known about this action.

The promotion of radical politics is another constructive use of social media, such as with the Facebook page “Black Autonomy Federation”. The organization wants to “[promote] class based grassroots anti-authoritarian struggle, Self Determination for The Black Community & Autonomy and Liberation for the oppressed worldwide.”[4] This promotion of radical politics allows people to learn about alternatives to the conservative-liberal political dichotomy, and lets them see that there are other ways of organizing society – that there are political views and ideas much more compatible with their current situation.

The use of social media has also allowed for people to create a dialogue with formerly untouchable individuals. A recent example of this occurred when the Colbert Report’s Twitter account sent out the joke: “I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”[5] While the joke was sent out of its specific context, it still angered a significant number of Asian-Americans. Suey Park, a writer, responded in protest by introducing the hashtag “#CancelColbert”. This hashtag gained massive coverage and a number of articles were written about it, even resulting in Park co-writing an opinion piece for Time. [6]No matter what one thinks of the potential pitfalls of social media, it is difficult to deny that it has also served as a useful tool for meaningful expression, allowing people such as Suey Park to challenge a mainstream, corporate-backed television show.

Yet, among all of this usage of social media to organize, talk back, and create safe spaces, there have been troubles. Earlier this year, Facebook shut down the Anarchist Memes page on the grounds that it had been flagged too many times for violating the company’s Community Standards and Statements of Rights and Responsibilities. A number of incidents had occurred, from posting “a picture of a Klansman who had accidentally set himself, instead of a large wooden cross, on fire, accompanied by the words ‘IRONY, it strikes at the best of times'” to posting a pro-transgender graphic, with the picture simply reading ‘Some Women Have Penises. Get Over it.”[7] These and other incidents led to the page being banned. Ironically, many other Facebook pages which have been flagged for encouraging rape and racism have escaped such disciplinary bans.

Now, while it is quite important for the aforementioned reasons, we also have to realize that social media activism is not enough. Social media activism “doesn’t require that you confront socially entrenched norms and practices. In fact, it’s the kind of commitment that will bring only social acknowledgment and praise.”[8] At the end of the day, while social media is great for dispensing and receiving information, and having discussions, it still does not require one to put anything on the line – it does not require someone to get out in the streets and march or organize.

However, there are ways to change this and to get people out in the streets. What needs to occur is a combination of online and traditional activism. Black Girl Dangerous is doing this to great effect. BGD is organizing a summer program for queer and trans people of color in which the goal is to, through “writing, dreaming, screaming, owning up, and facing who we are, who we have been, and who we might become,” create “an emotional revolution that will reverberate throughout our lives and our communities.”[9] By giving queer and trans people of color a physical space to connect and learn to about themselves, it is empowering people.

If we want a social and political revolution to occur, we need to utilize all of the tools at our disposal. We must know how to use those tools in the most effective manner, with the end goal of organizing people to get out into the streets and protest, and to create alternatives to the current system.

Notes

[1] Free Press, Diversity in Media Ownership, http://www.freepress.net/diversity-media-ownership

[2] Riva Gold, “Newsroom Diversity: A Casualty of Journalism’s Financial Crisis,” The Atlantic, July 9, 2013 ( http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/07/newsroom-diversity-a-casualty-of-journalisms-financial-crisis/277622/ )

[3] Black Girl Dangerous, About BGDhttp://www.blackgirldangerous.org/about-bgd/


[4] Black Autonomy Federation, About, http://www.facebook.com/BlackAutonomyFederation/info

[5] Meredith Blake, “#CancelColbert: Stephen Colbert accused of racism over Asian tweet,” LA Times, March 28, 2014 ( http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/tv/showtracker/la-et-stephen-colbert-accused-of-racism-over-asian-tweet-20140328,0,3484421.story#axzz2ytCNiUTG )

[6] Eunsong Kim, Suey Park, “Anti-Racism Activists on Colbert: We Will Protest This Until It Ends,”Time, April 10, 2014 ( http://time.com/58743/cancelcolbert-activists-we-will-protest-this-until-it-ends/ )

[7] Ben Norton, “Fascist Facebook?” Counterpunch, January 10, 2014 (http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/01/10/fascist-facebook/)


[8] Jared Keller, “This Hashtag Kills Fascists: Does Social Media Activism Actually Work?” Al Jazeera America, April 2, 2014 ( http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/4/2/hashtag-activismcancelcolbert.html )

[9] Black Girl Dangerous, Get Free: A Summer Program For Queer and Trans Youth of Color,http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/get-free-summer-program-queer-trans-youth-color/

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