Tapped Out: When Social Media Isn’t Enough

Today, I logged into my Facebook to see more about the Black Lives Matter movement alongside the news of another fatal shooting. Someone had also shared Dr. Marc Spooner’s post that comments on John Gormley’s “Gormley: Tapping-Out on the culture activism”. I wholeheartedly agree with what Dr. Marc Spooner has to say and, as an educator in the same program from which he teaches, I can understand his frustration towards those who ‘check-out’ yet, I struggle with this and I think that we all do to some degree as is the nature of privilege and social justice – no one can do it all. But I think that sometimes ‘tapping out’ of posting articles and publicly criticizing the long and ever-growing list of complaints isn’t a bad thing.

I am relatively new to the large and expanding field of social justice and while I don’t condone Gormley’s article or his writing without educating himself first, to a degree, I can understand the pull to ‘check out’. It seems that we hear these stories every day and for the past few days we have. We check the news to see another missing or murdered indigenous woman, another mass shooting or video surfacing depicting an office of the law using excessive force (or firearm) against a person of colour. It’s become almost predictable and I, for one, have tapped out in a way.  It’s no longer shocking to see these stories. Gormley discusses how society has changed to favour the culture of activism, especially through media. His opinion is that there have been 5 changes: society has come to favour the individual instead of community, increase in entitlement and grievances, a newfound “cult of attention and publicity” and a lack of care for behaviour deterrence such as the feeling of shame. Of course, this is Gormley’s opinion but it seems that for him, the culture of activism is based mostly around media and what others think. By Gormley’s definition of “whose well-publicized hurt feelings, grievances and complaints should become your problem” and “cacophony of attention-seeking grievance collectors”, it seems that all activism takes place in a very public way but this is not the case. Gormley seems to be describing how he is ‘tapped out’ of the same stories over and over and the repetition of similar stories blasting through our feeds. It seems that Gormley is solely focussed on media and slacktivism so by his definition, I too have tapped out.

I’ve stopped sharing the news articles and while I almost feel guilty for not sharing every terrorism attack (not just the ones that are more publicized because they are western, first world countries), at this point, if I shared every injustice that came across whatever platform I’m indulging in at the time, that would be all I have time for. Gormley makes reference to Johnny Oleksinski’s article “I’m a millennial and my generation sucks” and while he, himself, is putting millennial into a box that has been created by his experiences and the media, I disagree entirely. I am a millennial and I fully believe that due to the way that anyone can create media these days (especially millennials), the things that may have been swept under the rug in previous generations are not being tolerated. While I try not to ignore this self-made media there are too many things being posted every day that matter for me to post. I’ll admit it’s easy to just repost after reading only the title of an article and assuming its contents and still feel that I’ve done my good deed for the day. It’s easy but it’s not okay. As with anyone interested in social justice, I have to choose what I spend my time and energy on. That’s not to say that I don’t care just because I don’t post about it. While Gormley’s article is extremely harmful, where he contradicts himself is in his conclusion stating, “It’s not that we don’t care. We do. Or that we don’t judge. We most certainly do. We just go about our lives in a public silence and indifference that is often confused with tolerance. In short, many of us have had enough of the culture of activism. We’ve simply tapped out”. As Gormley laments the coddled nature of our society today, he misunderstands that silence and indifference IS tolerance but there is a difference between media silence and doing the work and just not posting about it.

I can understand how someone so engaged in the media can dismiss these issues especially on a social platform and I know as a white person how extremely forceful the pull is to just let it happen around us. I can also understand how wrong this is. I agree with Gormley solely in the fact that I don’t appreciate slacktivism as much as I once did. I know that it can be effective in many cases (another blog post for another time), however, many of these issues also require personal conversations. Sometimes social media is the platform for that and other times reposting just isn’t enough. As a white person, I need to be asking “what can I do to make this better?” This is not a place where my voice should be heard and in many senses, this is where the reposting does help by fuelling the voices of those who need to be heard. Gormley says that we have had enough of the culture of activism, but we have only just begun. My facebook wall may not show that I partake in the ‘culture of activism’ but maybe it doesn’t have to. The culture of activism shouldn’t be just online. My job right now is to go to First Nations ceremonies and volunteer my time and energy so someone else doesn’t have to always do the grunt work. My job is to go listen to the stories of elders and allow them to speak. I should be educating myself before I will my opinion on the world through my social media instead of blindly reposting articles. As an educator, I should ensure that my students learn the value of critical thinking so that they can deconstruct opinion pieces such as Gormley’s. I may not be publicizing my activism through social media, but quietly, It’s still happening and maybe we do need to put in the work instead of being glorified for posting the right articles.

These two articles include ways to support social justice movements both on and off of the internet:

“17 ways you can work for social justice” by Nina Flores published by Yes! Magazine

“8 ways to meaningfully support social justice movements” by Savonne Anderson published by Mashable

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