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A Believer in Social Media

bettina February 11, 2014 IDS General, Social Comments Off on A Believer in Social Media

BY ANDREA THOENE

Social media is at the forefront of our lives right now. And social media can bring big changes to how we understand and impact our world.  Kony2012 was such a huge movement. When the video made by Invisible Children hit social media, it exploded.  Because of the ease of posting and sharing information these days. not many people with a Facebook account (or on the Internet in general) didn’t hear about the viral video about a Ugandan warlord who was kidnapping children for his army.

Middle-class American citizens who lead lives of comparative privilege often leap for the opportunity to “make a difference” through a $10 donation or by passing along a social-media inspired message about horrific economic and governmental chaos in other parts of the world.  Writer Teju Cole describes this often genuine—but guilt-induced—response to Third-World hurt as “The White-Savior Industrial Complex”; “an internal ethical urge that demands that each of us serve justice as much as he or she can.”  And thanks to social media, we don’t have to leave the country or even get off of the couch to “make a difference.” By posting a status or sharing a video, we feel like we are making a difference and we make ourselves feel better by relieving our conscience a little bit.

Is that really making a difference, though? Everybody always talks so highly of what social media can do. Yes, it can help people connect. It can also cause depression in teens. Yes, it can create awareness for a cause, but it can also put the spotlight on something that doesn’t deserve it, while some other worthy issues gets ignored, like the hardly discussed U.S. government aid—millions of dollars—given to the Ugandan government and its leader Yoweri Musevini, who “has all but abandoned any prospect of democracy or dissent.”

I’m not saying social media is a completely bad thing. It really isn’t, and it does have wonderful benefits. But before we think that sharing something on Facebook will create a new, peaceful world to live in, we need to realize that it is not a fix-all. It is a place for others to become aware of things that need to be fixed. The real way to bring about change? Get off of social media accounts and get more informed. Actually physically do something to create a better world. Here are some of Cole’s suggestions: Learn about American foreign policy and its involvement in the exploitative Nigerian oil industry; learn about how NAFTA subsidized American corn and rice and destroyed the livelihood of Mexican corn and Haitian rice farmers; learn about how Honduras activists and journalists are being murdered  because of an American coup.

As I’m writing this, I am aware of my Twitter feed blowing up with tweets about a shooting that is happening at a Colorado High School. So many of the people I follow are tweeting, “My thoughts to that school,” and things along that line. Since there is nothing people can do about stopping this horrific disaster, they are doing what they can, which is letting others know that they care enough about the cause to tweet about it. This is a positive way to look at social media. While sending a tweet won’t make any of the injured people magically better (or stop a Ugandan warlord), it will be able to help bring comfort to those hurting most right now. And that is why I am still a believer in social media.

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