The more I think about capitalism, the more I think it’s the root of all evil. And social-media activism is becoming a pet peeve of mine, too. I think it’s all b.s.
As I write this, in the current 24-hour news cycle the big thing is the Amazon rainforest burning. It’s on everyone’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram stories, etc. So many posts claim the media isn’t covering it, and that people need to do something about it. Therein lies the hypocrisy of social-media activism: so much of it calls for other people to do something, to pay attention. But if a tree falls in the forest, does it matter whether one person heard it or one million? The tree still fell.
Social-media activism is an extension of call-out culture. Call-out culture is a self-defeating system where people are categorized into good and bad. In call-out culture, one misstep in an otherwise “woke” life can get you moved permanently into the bad pile.
The main faucet of call out-culture is large-scale public shaming for perceived wrongs. It often results in a cancellation or forced resignation of some kind, like when Kevin Hart bowed out of hosting the Oscars this year after the comedian’s old homophobic tweets came to light.
Sometimes people really do deserve the consequences. But call-out culture also exists on a micro scale within communities. In this miniature version, the fear is less that you will do something unwoke, and more that you just won’t be woke enough. So how do you prove you care the most, but still put in minimal effort? You slap that shit all over your social media presence. You bathe your Instagram in it, lather up your Snapchat, spritz your Twitter with a fine perfume.
But the thing about social media is, very few people could actually give a hoot. If you miss an outrage cycle, no one will notice. The whole thing is more of an exercise in making yourself feel less guilty. Sarah Silverman calls it “righteousness porn.”
I think at some point along the way, perhaps when social media first started to get really popular, we collectively convinced ourselves that somehow our online presence was valuable. Like if you get 10k retweets, someone will send you money. You can make money off social media. The more followers you get, the better leverage you have to sell ads or your own product. But the five minutes of fame is closer to five seconds these days, so most people make diddly.
There are perceived financial and social benefits to maintaining a pleasing social media presence. We’ve been conditioned to value money above all. Therefore we are very stingy with giving it away. However, we have also been conditioned to want everyone to like us, and if everyone likes us we will find financial success with more ease.
Here’s where I’ll circle back to “capitalism is the root of all evil.” Capitalism keeps us trapped in this toxic system. We refuse to part with more of our money than absolutely necessary. That is why we still buy from Amazon despite their working conditions, why we support fast fashion, fast food, evil corporations, single-use plastic. Why we all secretly empathize just a little tiny bit with the billionaires who hang onto every penny of their wealth. And why, instead of donating our time or money to causes, we re-post them on social media.
Perhaps given some time, after we’ve wallowed in the dire effects of humanity’s mistakes for a few more decades, social-media activism can do some good. Perhaps it can unite the mass to take back the power, to overthrow our millionaire and billionaire overlords and create an equitable economic system that will not throw our societies and environment into complete disarray.
But I tend to doubt it. Especially because many of our most pressing problems have already reached the “now or never” zone.
Here is the future I predict. You know that meme, “If the Titanic happened today,” with all the people taking pictures of the sinking ship on their smartphones? I predict we will all keep posting about all the awful stuff that we are so outraged about until we die of a thousand paper cuts. (That last line only works if you picture little dollar bills with shanks.)
Keep hope alive. Perhaps capitalism will kill itself off before it kills the rest of society, or perhaps it will give rise to something better. I won’t propose a better alternative because that would be very #antisocialmediaactivism. Instead, I’ll keep hoping someone else will do the leg work.