The Illusion of Affecting Change: Reflections On Civic Duty and Social Media.
I am so fascinated by the way we express ourselves on social media — why we post certain links, why we share certain opinions.
There is no more fascinating time to study than the years of presidential elections. On Facebook and Twitter, in particular, we endure month after month of political rant from our friends and family, as well as the in-your-face memes and articles that circulate.
There are times when many of us have to step away from the fray to keep our tempers even and our hearts clear. I, myself, took a week-long Facebook sabbatical after the election, and I have friends who closed their accounts altogether, in an attempt to escape the vitriolic political conflict.
When I finally returned to Facebook, I found myself in a state of amused curiosity, particularly whenever I was tempted to share a political article or opinion.
Why am I doing this? I’d ask myself (something I think we should always ask ourselves every time we post something to social media). And come to think of it, why is anyone doing this?
As lacking privacy as it can be, an individual Facebook account (as opposed to a business or public figure account) is not a public forum.
Our Facebook-posted opinions, in general, don’t affect change. The links we share are not going to change anyone’s minds, nor are they going to improve the state of the union.
What’s really happening is that we’re turning the microcosm of Facebook into the illusion of a public forum. We’re bombarding our friends, relatives, and schoolmates (and whoever else is on our friend list) with opinions they already know we have. And then we argue about it, sometimes quite aggressively.
It’s so important that we are thoughtful and intentional with our words and opinions. I’m not suggesting that we should silence ourselves or cease expressing ourselves on social media platforms. It’s our right and privilege as Americans to speak up. But we also need to be clear about why we are speaking, for what purpose, and to what end. And we need to remember the diversity of our people, which requires us to create a balance between speaking up and listening.
We also need to stop being lazy citizens who use social media to meet our quota for civic action. If we want to see change, we have to engage where it counts, and that isn’t on Facebook.
What if, instead of posting incisive political links on Facebook, we did something like the following?
1. Write to or call your senators and representatives. If you’re going to take the time to write a political rant on Facebook, why not make it more useful and send that rant to your senators instead? Just be sure to make it respectful and succinct — your words will get a lot farther that way.
2. Volunteer at an organization that is working toward the kind of social, environmental, or political change you want to support. Don’t wait around for lawmakers to make this country better. Get in there and do the work.
3. Align your spending with your values. Support businesses that you believe in. Donate money to non-profit agencies, politicians, and causes that you want to support.
4. Write editorials. If you have a lot of opinions and really love sharing them, there’s no better way than the editorial. Don’t just stick with local papers either — branch out to national publications, both online and in print.
5. Organize an event. The Women’s March was a huge wake-up call for many of us. The people of America are still engaged. They still care. This is not the politically and socially apathetic country we have been accused of being. Hundreds of thousands of people took a precious weekend out of their lives to stand up for what they believe in.
If you felt an alignment with the movement, organize follow-up events in your own community. If you felt it didn’t represent you at all, start your own march.
6. Create beauty. This may sound unimportant, but we need to create the beauty in the world that we want to see. Share beautiful pictures. Write beautiful blog posts. Go out of your way to thank people you wouldn’t normally thank. Turn your Twitter feed into poetry. Spread beauty wherever you go.
We cannot afford to be lazy or thoughtless about our political and social beliefs. We must strive for action in unity, and we cannot achieve that by spouting Facebook and Twitter rants that drive wedges between us and do nothing to create sustainable change.
It is long past time now to be thoughtful and intentional with every word that passes our lips and every word we share online. We can’t wait for the media to change. We can’t wait for politicians to change. We have to be the ones to hold the frontline. It has to start with us.
And if we want to see change, we have to realize that all our sharing, linking, and commenting on social media is not going to accomplish that goal. Only focused, deliberate action will get us to that point. And if we’re not willing to put in that effort and participate in this democracy, then we really don’t have the right to comment on it at all.
Let’s take our own oath of office right now, as conscious and conscientious citizens of the United States:
I will think before I post.
I will use social media as a method to unite with my fellow citizens, not as a tool for conflict.
I will spend as much time taking genuine political action as I spend sharing my political opinions on social media.
So help me God(dess).
Yancy Lael is a writer, artist, and educator. She has a master’s degree in teaching, and is passionate about the power of storytelling as a path to self-realization. She is the author of The Poison Box, Soulful Skincare, and Being Beautiful. You could contact Yancy via her website, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.