Social Media Activism is Pretty Lame

The Feed is Digiday’s Web-culture corner. Check The Feed everyday for Web-culture news roundups, infographics, essays and more. Follow us on Twitter for updates throughout the day @SWeissman.

Can you imagine if Vietnam War protestors, rather than organizing marches, sit-ins, boycotts and so on, decided to just take Twitter vows of silence and join Facebook protest pages?

That would be pretty lame and probably wouldn’t accomplish much. But today taking a stand for or against a cause is the standard model for protesting. That isn’t to say that social media isn’t a valuable tool for organizing civil action, but the popularity of declaring Twitter vows of silence and joining causes on Facebook has watered down the whole idea of protestation.

It’s similar to how Facebook can nearly render the notion of friendship obsolete. After all, real friendship is hard. It means making an effort to keep in touch, remembering milestones like birthdays. With Facebook, no problem. We can be friends with everyone!

The current vogue for protesting some injustice — SOPA, for instance — is to black out a Twitter avatar or add a ribbon to a profile photo. Let’s face it: These things are done to project a progressive image to a person’s followers. It’s not exactly the same as taking to Tahrir Square.

Social media can be a vital tool in organizing civil action in countries under oppressive rule; it can help give people a voice and connect them with others who share similar subversive beliefs; it can deliver important up-to-the-minute news when other news sources are censored and other modes of communication are blocked.

Clicking a like button on a Facebook page doesn’t make you a social activist. It is nice that Facebook pages can be used to raise awareness of a cause, but if no action follows, it doesn’t really amount to much, and it has become an all too common occurrence to start Facebook pages for every little thing.

Social media activism is an important part of civil action today, but social media action alone isn’t going to change society or government. It still takes real people taking real action in real life.

Sign up to get the day’s top stories at 6am eastern.