There’s No Excuse To Be An Activist, Right?

Alden Arnold, Visuals Editor

In an age where current global events, politics, and opinions are as accessible as one’s camera roll, it takes an effort to stay uninformed. More than ever, people are exposed to issues relating to inequality, human rights, violence, and the climate crisis. Alongside a deep-set feeling of dread, the natural response to this suffering is the question: what should I do with this information? Seattle Prep students are told to be committed to doing justice, but with a lack of monetary resources and experience, this is easier said than done. The most viable option, it seems, already sits in every teenager’s pocket: social media.

Free, popular, and accessible, social media is the perfect platform to share messages with millions. For teens yearning to help their communities and engage in social justice, social media appears to be the obvious answer. Within seconds, information can be publicized via infographics, current issues featured on story posts, and even whole organizations can exist exclusively through an Instagram or Twitter account.

At the heart of this seemingly infinite opportunity to do good, however, lies a hollow center. While well-intentioned, social media activism often lacks the physical action required to make the concrete changes these posts promise. Like most things on the internet, hot-button topics become trends for 3-4 weeks before quietly dying out; old issues are discarded for newer, shinier ones. Some view activism accounts as an opportunity for profit and use them as free ad space to market merchandise to their followers. Algorithms almost exclusively feed users posts that align with their political affiliations, creating opportunities for radicalization, hive-minds, and even propaganda. By reducing social progress to a 3×5 grid, the core principles of these movements and the human element of justice are lost. Lacking action, inspiration, and commitment, this form of activism is, more or less, performative.

Peer pressure can also play a role in online activism. Especially for teenagers, cutting-edge involvement in issues of social justice can translate to increased social credibility. Silence on a particular issue, on the other hand, may be perceived as a statement of condemnation and result in ostracization. “Virtue-signaling”, or expressing opinions for the sole purpose of demonstrating one’s virtuousness, runs rampant on online platforms. For some, the popularity and gratification associated with performative activism are the primary motivation to like posts, share stories, and sign petitions.

Online activism is not all evil, however. Social media, much like polls, indicates popular opinion and can influence politicians’ campaigns and agendas. The internet is an excellent resource to educate and be educated. For many working people with busy schedules, activist accounts are the only way to interact and stay involved with topics that are important to them.

Social media can be utilized for good, but it is important to know how to use it correctly. Before posting, sharing, or commenting, ask: “Is this information correct? What is the purpose of this content,  and what draws me to this subject in particular? Is there genuine passion backing my action? By interacting with this, how am I directly benefiting the cause? What is my motivation for sharing this post, and how will I follow up with this topic in the future?”.