Rise of the Misinformed Activist
Between organizing and documenting protests, to sharing news, and being a forum for debate, social media has become an invaluable tool for activism. However, it hasn’t been without its drawbacks. While social media like Facebook, blogs, Twitter, and YouTube have made it possible to connect with people different from ourselves, it is often used to find like minded people and stick with them: much like cliques in high school. One doesn’t have to spend much time anywhere on a website before finding one of the infamous “internet trolls.” While these people are annoying, there is a much more insidious group on the web: the misinformed activist.
These people are convinced they are right despite any evidence presented against their case. If they do feel their credibility or argument threatened, they will often retreat back to their clique where they will be reassured they are in fact correct and anyone who says otherwise is a troll, idiot, or bigot. It’s true this happens throughout life, and would continue to happen with or without social media, but the problem is that social media allows this to happen on a much larger scale. A small group of friends or co-workers talking over lunch becomes groups of hundreds or thousands or more all validating each other’s beliefs and immediately rejecting anything that offers an alternative view. Quite simply, it’s groupthink on the scale of thousands instead of only a few.
But it’s not just people being closed-minded. With countless webpages popping up, it’s easy to find information that is outdated or flat out wrong. People will often comment on articles with outrage over what the title says, but one click on the link will show the article was posted by The Onion, or some other satirical news site.
One reason for why this occurs is simply because people want to be right. An article, even a satirical or heavily biased one, that reinforces a pre-conceived idea will be accepted more than an article that offers a new perspective. Many people will latch on to these articles as proof they are right and share them.
While anyone can be guilty of this, it’s most problematic when committed by activists. Since they are going to be more passionate and outspoken than most people by nature of being...well an activist, it makes being open-minded and fact checking all the more important. By spreading heavily biased or misinformation while ignoring/rejecting anything they don’t like, activists are furthering a “live in a box” culture. But when it comes to activism, it really isn’t about critical, open-minded thinking, is it? It’s about convincing enough people you are right through any means necessary and forcing those who refuse into silence. (sarcasm)
Many of the people guilty of this are, ironically, college educated. On campuses, safe spaces are created for students to go and feel comfortable in who they are and not have to worry about being judged or attacked. These spaces are great because many students do not have good home or roommate situations. However these spaces are often abused so students can retreat and hide in them instead of acknowledge people who think differently than them.
Activism and analysis are not the same thing. However, to be a good activist, one must be able to analyze a wide variety of viewpoints: including your own.