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Social Media: Wasting Time or Changing Minds?

Using social media to promote social justice, one post at a time.

"Great job, Shawna. You’ve recruited four friends to take action on Causes today.” After reading that email, I did feel great. Until I realized, so what?

Did it really matter that my friend in Wisconsin signed a petition to outlaw bear baiting in Southern Carolina? I know I put her and many others up to it and all, and I thank them for their kind thoughts, but is that enough?

Do petitions really change things?

Challenging the steady flow of propaganda from governments round the world are social media platforms too superfluous to mention. While talking points and the same old recycled subjects dominate major news outlets, and journalism is boiled to down to a slick science, or “dead” as some may posit, sticking its virtual neck out for the underdog are a slew of social media outlets, the biggest brands of which are facebook and Twitter.

Facebook even released a game where the objective is social justice, entitled America 2049.

In the actual world, social justice by social media was exemplified when Trayvon Martin died. Traditional media storms did not immediately erupt with outcries of injustice and inquiries of “why?”, but facebook did.

I recall the horror of what had happened and the excitement that was building up as those who sense wrongdoing in the world were instantly gratified with the attention of countless ears attached to endless hearts, all connecting with the kid whose life was cut short in the time it took to buy an ice tea.

Facebook posts were successful in bringing the issue to the forefront, an elephant that remains in the room when it comes to politics: some lives are less important than others. Some deaths we should care about, and others are barely worth a whisper.

But how loud are a million clicks of a mouse if we are all in our own rooms while they go off? They may crescendoo to a tidal wave of protest in cyber space, but once they’ve crashed, sentiments seem to wash out to sea.

If social media could help one family get justice, if it brought awareness to African child soldiers/prostitutes, bear baiting, sex trafficking, police brutality, if it gives a voice to messages that otherwise are falling on deaf ears, then maybe it’s worth confinement to boxes where, despite our ability to connect with an entire world of weirdness and wonderfulness, we remain cordoned off from our own neighbors.

But just as it provides a free venue of ideas, it can also act as a channel for self worship, idiocy and propaganda courtesy not just of lying political figures, but of people who are able to lie to themselves and feel the warmth of countless unknown “yes men”.

It can give credence to falsehoods, like rape doesn’t result in conception, a notion as astounding in ignorance as its pre-Internet precursor of “pulling out” to prevent pregnancy.

Hate and fear and blatant lies spread like wildfire in an environment where one of the few barriers is a slow Internet connection.

I’ve always believed that awareness is key to any change. “When you know better, you do better,” said Maya Angelou, (and I lifted, I mean shared, that quote from a facebook post from improvingbirth.org.)

Oh, the power of it! I influenced four of my like-minded friends to be against something with one heart-wrenching post. Which is meaningless, if you think about it...until like winning the lottery, that one "share" goes viral.

If we can just harness that power for good instead of insights about Beiber and Kardashians, if status updates actually led to actions, the world might actually be a better place.

No wonder America is so polarized. Everyone is able to live in their own reality, thanks to shimmering screens of their computer screens.

However, everyone is also able to put that reality on a screen and show it to the world. As the protesting Iranian students who recorded the harsh crackdown by their regime showed us last year, this novel method of interaction can be used for the power of the people and may even be the future of journalism.

Those uprises were quelled nonetheless. But at least we know about it.

In case you were wondering, the previously mentioned bear baiting “pits a declawed and defanged bear which is chained to a stake against hunting dogs that bark and bite at it while hundreds of people watch. Spectators consider this event entertainment and hunters consider this as a training regimen for their animals,” according to the facebook post.

It also notes that the only two places on Earth where this practice remains legal are Pakistan and South Carolina.

I thank social media for bringing atrocities such as this to my attention so I can first wallow in the sad state of the world, but then with the subtle movement of my main phalange, literally lift a finger to do something about it. However, I’m also aware of the huge distraction it plays in my life.

While I’m out saving the world and do-gooding, my loved ones are staring into their own glowing screens. Mesmerized together in separate spheres of influence, we drift alone in a brave new world of connectivity to the masses at the expense of our communities, our own families.

Does social media enhance life, or does it just erode it under illusions? But in the end, its capacity to ignite the flame that illuminates humanity’s soul may provide the connections necessary to evolve past a point where ordinary people's main recourse against an inhumane act involves sharing it with an electronic device.

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