If You Didn’t Believe Social Media and Online Activism…

You wouldn’t be reading this blog.

Every time something tragic happens, the masses take to social media. The tweeters tweet, the bloggers blog, the tumblrs do…whatever it is that they do. The online world as we know it changes their profile photos to pictures of a victim, a cause, and a consensual feeling that we – society’s underdog – have to fight and make a change…until the next tragedy pops up and takes us away from the immediacy and hurt of our current tragedy. There’s a common complaint that Black folks – especially of the twitter generation – don’t do enough moving to inspire an actual change.

Generation X defines people who were born after Baby Boomers, from the mid-1960s to approximately 1980. After Gen-X came Generation Y, the generation that most people now say encompasses people at a cut-off age of 33 and ending, so far, at 13. However, there seems to be a blurred shift in social standards within Gen-Y; in fact, I would venture to say that there is a generational subset (the one that people are referring to with their complaints of “this generation”) that I often think of as Generationi or Generation-Why? I am of the opinion that early Gen-Y, (1980-1989) seem to be more a bridge between Gen-X and Gen-Why. They are tech-savvy, but the post-Gen-Xers had a difficult time gaining their own definition. These people encompass both the MTV generation and the internet generation. However, they are also the first social media activists. And Gen-Why seems to be a generation of people, especially Black Gen-Why, that we’ve all given up on.

I tend to withdraw from social networking and observe people’s behavior, like the eternal sociologist that I am. However, I am also on the ground daily, fighting many fights that will hopefully, one day, benefit the people. I’ve found it interesting that every time anything happens, twitter gets it first. Any time a celebrity has a child, or a major court case happens online, people check twitter before checking the news. I, myself, am guilty of it. We are now socialized to interpret information differently because of social media.

The benefit of the information age is that, with how quickly technology evolves, we are able to distribute information much more quickly than ever. This can be both beneficial and completely terrifying. In fact, the young subset of Generation-Y is certainly much more of a shock culture than any of the previous generations, in part because of how quickly we can spread information and our potential reach. How many people do you know who do not have Facebook? Or a smart phone? The younger generation is being taught to have the most fans and to get the most shocking, next hot “thing” out before anyone else. They’re brought up to believe that this is acceptable, even in subtleties. Just the other day, I was on twitter and I saw a person who’s twitter handle was something to the effect of Emmett Trill. (I only assumed that the kid belongs to this age bracket, but I was so disgusted that I just had to turn my cell phone off for a little while. It saddened me.)

There is a breakdown in how older people understand people belonging to this age group, and that’s where the communication proves faulty. My aunt is a notorious example of this. She thinks that she is the entertainment news – she sends mass text messages to the entire family about celebrity news. One day, she sent a mass text about a car accident that my cousin had been in (during which, he totaled his vehicle) and no one knew about it. I think that there is a general level of misunderstanding of the evolving mores and folkways that social media has placed upon us; we have to accept that our communication styles are changing and we have to desire to understand each other. Why are we so hard on these kids for wanting to make a difference in the ways that they think will work?

trayvon-martin-social-media-featThe older generations, even older Gen-Y folks, have given up on the younger generation; they define their online activism as naivete and assume to know what they feel to be enough to make a change. To use a word that I don’t often use, this is unfair to the younger adults who aspire to make a change; I am of the opinion that they aren’t given enough credit for the intelligence that they do have. Of course they don’t feel like taking a photo with a hoodie and skittles will change whether or not George Zimmerman is found guilty for murdering Trayvon Martin. I think that there is movement being disregarded by people who don’t see the point in the symbolism of changing their profile photos or engaging in online discourse. How much of a difference in curing breast cancer is wearing pink ribbons? Is changing your photo for HRC making a difference in gay and lesbian rights? Obviously, the solution to the problem is not in online advocacy, but that method of advocacy is a form of solidarity; it is intended to send a message of unity. (Conversely, I do understand that awareness groups wear ribbons in an effort to raise money and that is a very real difference. A start is a start.)

In addition to the changing of profile pics, etc., being forms of solidarity, I think that it is very important to note that they are very legitimate forms of non-violent protests. The way that we are communicating is evolving, and we are all evolving with it. However, our understanding of one another – especially in our expectations of communication – have not evolved and that is where Gen-Why gets hit hard. Back in the day (and sometimes today, too), one of our main methods of making an impression on society was picketing and allowing the opposition to be assaultive toward us as we turned the other cheek. There was even a clear division within our communities because, as this was mostly Martin Luther King Jr’s method of encouraging us to overcome injustice, a major section of the Black community was not for being assaulted and not defending ourselves. Non-violent protesting then was even seen to be outrageous; I believe that as the kids of today try to set their paths and figure out how to reach the masses, they are doing what they can with what they have. Let them protest, and let them know their non-violent protests are not in vain. After all, online activism and silent protests are responsible for holding corporations responsible for the people that they support. These methods of advocacy, while from behind their computers and smart phones, are responsible for Paula Deen being held accountable for her racism and for the Occupy Movement that is still active, even if you don’t see them online.

The media that we ingest has evolved and so have the values of the younger Generation-Y, for better or for worse. I am very much of the opinion that they are not being examined under the proper lens. They are difficult to figure out but I think that it is important for anyone not of that generation to remember that they are also figuring themselves out. They may even be afraid to engage in the forms of advocacy that we, the older generations, deem to be valuable because a lot of people feel as though they have no knowledge or experience. It is our responsibility to work with them.

So when Troy Davis is executed, our legislation is passed stripping our civil rights, and most recently, Trayvon Martin is killed (and his killer acquitted), Generation-Y (and “Why”) take to social media — which in and of itself does not resolve any of these major systemic problems. why does Generation-Y get so much flack for blacking out their profile picture or sending out texts or tweets? Let’s encourage them to get in the streets (as they have and are) as well as encourage their evolving methods of activism.

The best question, in my opinion, is how to we bridge the communication gap within our communities to resolve the problems that we are faced with?

(And stop comparing Trayvon Martin to everything else. We do not live in a culture that is everything or nothing. I believe that they are trying. Shaming them for not trying hard enough won’t get them to try more.)