In just over a month, I’ll be starting my second semester of my graduate degree in communication. In my first semester, I took a course called Globalization, Media & Social Change. It focused on the effects of technology on our media interactions, globally and on an individual level, and the way we pursue activism and work for social change. It was fascinating and full of interesting discussions about how our world is changing and what agency looks like in new social movements.
We debated whether activism driven by social media campaigns is effective or not. And there’s a lot to be debated. Do hashtag campaigns work? Do they give people a false sense of participation, making potential on-the-ground activists feel like they’ve already participated, and therefore don’t need to participate in other ways? Or do they motivate potential activists to take other actions, like contacting local officials or taking part in a protest? Whole sectors of research are being done to study the impact of movements like #OccupyWallStreet and #BlackLivesMatter. Books and articles abound about the positive and negative effects of social media on political and social activism.
We also looked at the effects of social media and globalization on political systems. Would the Arab Spring have gained such momentum without Twitter and Facebook? How does social media help usher in democracy or hinder it from taking root in countries where it is not the status quo? How do people access or lack access to the Internet and technology? How does that disadvantage them? These are not simple issues with simple answers.
Several years before I started this road to my master’s degree, I started paying closer attention to the realities of injustice in our world and in our church. And justice, equality, and full recognition of every human being as an image-bearer of God has become integral to my faith. My heart is broken for this world, for all the hate and violence, for the us vs. them mentality, for the ways we put each other down to keep ourselves in control.
But how do I become part of the solution to a problem like racism? I’ve been reading and watching and listening to some good advice from great writers, artists, and thinkers recently. Like this article from Jessica Goudeau on “becoming woke.” Like this heartbreaking essay from Shaun King after the shooting of Alton Sterling. Like this podcast from The Liturgists that I had to listen to more than once so I could take it all in.
So I’ve been listening more to the real experiences of racism in our country. I’ve been sharing those articles and podcasts and tweets. I’ve been standing up more to white friends who have said things that are dismissive, uninformed, or offensive. One of the best things I’ve done is to diversify my social media feeds. It’s made a difference for me to see and read voices that are different from mine, both in experience and opinion. A couple months ago, The Representation Project sent our their weekly email with a call to follow the artists and producers behind Beyonce’s Lemonade album, to show our support for media that represents minority experiences. We can all start there.
Follow the voices of the movement. Follow the voices of those you don’t necessarily agree with, but are adding well-informed words to the discussion. Follow the voices of people who live out different experiences than you. Follow black artists, authors, poets, songwriters, filmmakers who are talking about the issues.
Twitter and Facebook and many social media channels have suggestions for you. Those suggestions are based on fancy algorithms designed to show you more pages and people you are likely to follow, or content followed by people you’re connected to. As you diversify the people and voices you follow, your social media channels will start helping you do that more and more. It’s not foolproof, by any stretch, but it can help broaden the viewpoints you are exposed to, but only if you start broadening them yourself first.
As I worked on diversifying the voices I was seeing on social media, I was exposed to more viewpoints and perspectives that I hadn’t seen before. What I was reading and seeing suddenly wasn’t my own viewpoints reflected back at me by people who all look and think like me. There were new voices challenging my assumptions and broadening my base for understanding other people’s experiences. And this is so important to creating a world that is more tolerant and understanding of other people’s experiences.
These are real things happening in our society: racism, homophobia, xenophobia, sexism, rape culture. We can’t afford to ignore them and let them continue. We can start small, by listening and learning and staying humble about what we don’t know, and open to the people around us. It’s so important that we try.