Broadly speaking I think “slacktivism” — the Facebook posting and tweeting of graphics and articles supporting political or ideological causes — probably has a net positive effect.
It’s dumb, lazy, and intellectually shallow, but it does at least raise awareness among people who only seek dumb, lazy, and intellectually shallow news. As astonishing as it is to think, there probably are people that genuinely didn’t know about (as a random example) the 2012 NDAA bill until they saw pictures on Facebook with generically-threatening riot police and angry red text. And it’s better to get information to those people in a crappy medium than not at all.
That assumes, of coure, that the images (which I like to call “graphucks“) are disseminating accurate information, which they often aren’t. And the vulnerability of low-information, social-media-using people to false or highly misleading factoids is a major problem. But all that said, at the end of the day it’s more people thinking about things than we would otherwise have, even if they’re not very good at it, so: net positive.
When nationally-televised disasters strike, however, the desire to be seen as doing something on Facebook or Twitter turns the whole thing into a massive cluster-fuck of self-aggrandizement.
Telling the world that your heart is with Boston (or wherever) is about you. It’s a way to let your friends know how caring and empathetic you are.
The bombings yesterday were a real tragedy. I in no way want to diminish or question that. It is terrible when people do things like this, and when other people suffer because of it. That is a thing you can legitimately be upset about, and if it makes you do some deep thinking so much the better.
But saying “oh my god, I’m so shocked” or “positive thoughts to all in Boston” or whatever on your social media feed is just being part of the meme. And it’s a stupid meme that ignores how often this sort of thing is happening all over the world, including and especially in countries where we paid to make it the norm.
Iraq was ripped by a series of bombings yesterday — many hours before the Boston Maraton bombings — killing more than 30 people. Needless to say, most peoples hearts were not with Nasariyah, or with Tuz Khurmatu, or with Baghdad, at least not as far as their Facebook feeds would lead you to believe.
The one set of bombings does not make the other less of a tragedy. It’s not like we shouldn’t be sad about Boston, just because it’s worse in Baghdad. No one should play one-upsmanship with grief.
But if you’re wringing your hands on Facebook about one bombing and staying silent about another, it suggests either that you’re ignorant or that you’re making an active judgement call about which human deaths are more tragic, neither of which speaks well of you.
And as far as the uplifting idea that, even when someone does something terrible, there are so many more good people ready to help, I think a friend of mine said it best:
The only reason we can think that the good guys outnumber the bad is that we’re being attacked by terrorists. The people we’re attacking have no such illusions.
It’s nice to live in a country where security, first response teams, and emergency medical aid are provided by well-funded and at least theoretically benevolent agencies of our own democratically elected government, but that ain’t exactly the universal state of the human condition.
So please — share news articles and live feeds as they update with new information. Direct people to groups and charities helping on the ground, if you know of one that needs support. But stop telling the world how concerned and saddened you are by these acts of evil.
Because odds are you’re not, until you see them on everyone else’s Facebook page.