The Lazy(Read: Exploitable) “Social” Activist

screenshot taken by author via Facebook

screenshot taken by author via Facebook

Remember back in the day(and still now) when you would get those “READ THIS OR ELSE YOUR FAMILY WILL DIE” posts so you read it and shared it and felt like you saved your family?  Woo you just saved your family!

Hate to say it, but your family was never in danger.(Suprise!) You were conned into sharing something so it spreads. And thats it. Nothing too bad right? Sure it’s annoying, but it’s not like you’re hurting anyone right? Nowadays, there’s people who post those horrific photos of dead animals that then pull you into a HUGE paragraph with some stats with no sources and ask you to “THINK before your selfishness begins to take over”(see right). That. I hate that.

My biggest pet peeve about social media habits is how people post about an otherwise extremely important issue, but use unreliable stats and shocking pictures. It feels like something TMZ would post. It seems that most people don’t do that much research on topics past what they read and for whatever reason, they share it. It’s doubly annoying when it’s accusatory, preachy and/or classically “Kanyed” with ALL CAPS. It’s sort of like a more advanced form of trolling, and while it’s well intentioned(sometimes), it’s rarely an informed opinion and can just spread false information. Seriously, I hate it.

*Insert general statement about greedy corporations* (screenshot by author)

This is not to say having an open conversation and thoughtful discussion isn’t possible, it’s just very hard to expect a thoughtful conversation in social media and online in general. If you ever been on a forum or have seen any Youtube comments, you totally know what I’m talking about.

One of my favorite examples is http://literallyunbelievable.org/, which is a website that documents people who actually take “The Onion” seriously. For those who don’t know, “The Onion” is a satire magazine that makes completely fake and pretty hilarious articles/headlines. Literally Unbelievable is more of a “gotcha” that showcases basically the lack of research or fact checking that happens when it comes to sharing news or forming opinion. It’s not necessarily their fault, as the system is currently structured to have everything easily digestible, readable, and shareable.

In the online world, the news is basically run by blogs and there is no fact checking in many cases. This system isn’t inherently built to spread false information, but it’s easily exploitable. You can pay an influential blogger money to blog about anything. Someone can write a scathing/shocking article that’s controversial(so it can get views and be clicked on), send it to a gossip blog or any blog, and it gets posted and sourced from a more popular blog, and up and up it goes, until the sources get lost in the mix and no one bothers too look. In a book by Ryan Holiday, called “Trust Me I’m Lying” he talks a lot about how blogs are exploited by Marketing Directors of big companies who pay huge sums of money to build buzz about their brand. Maria Popova of Brainpickings.org quotes Holiday in saying:

“someone pays [him to] manufacture a story for them, and we trade it up the chain –from a tiny blog to Gawker to a website of a local news network to the Huffington Post to the major newspapers to cable news and back again, until the unreal becomes real.”(Popova).

This isn’t limited to big business either, non profits and social enterprises use shock value all the time to get their word out. Think of the PSA ads on smoking — this is the new way to do it.  It’s admittedly terrifying to think that money is basically championed over journalistic ethics in this case, but also what’s more troubling is that most viewers fail to even do preliminary research past the shared headline.

A Forbes article published last October titled “Are Millenials Lazy or Avant-Grade Social Activists?” says that lazy activism can be seen in a different light altogether. The way social activism is reframed when it comes to us Millenials seems to be more about the “journey, and not about results”. Where as older Americans were more “focused on results, effecting change, and a material end result,” apparently us new ones are more interested in incorporating “social responsibility into everyday behaviors“(Faw). It seems almost as we’re championing more local, but sustainable change, rather than big, sweeping change.

I believe that there’s a degree to which we incorporate social and journalistic activism into our everyday behaviors and lives. With some, that might mean volunteering at a dog shelter and tweeting about it, which is totally fine, but there’s only so much you can do on a local, personal level, but in terms of reach with social networks, you can spread a lot of misinformation.  Maybe the reason they share is for likes or retweets or whatever, but it seems to me that with the case of Millenials incorporating social responsibility into our own hands, we must also apply that same thing to news and journalism in general, with the understanding that it’s up to us to do our own investigative journalism and gather the facts before making an informed opinion and sharing that opinion on a wide social network.

No longer can we be passive of what news we consume, as much of what is shown can be determined by who pays more and what sort of controversial topic gets the most page views or clicks. With the digital landscape and especially with social media sharing, the stakes are high when it comes to which article you choose to share and read, and there are underlying forces that are put in place to entice you to click the share, tweet, or like button.

If you’d like an easy solution: Don’t believe anything you see on the internet.

Sources Cited:
Faw, Larissa. “Are Millennials Lazy Or Avant-Garde Social Activists?” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 23 Oct. 2012. Web. 08 Sept. 2013.

Popova, Maria. “Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator.” Brain Pickings. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Sept. 2013.

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