While social media is a powerful medium through which youths express the issues important to them, there is a plethora of obstacles standing in their way. From privacy issues to the actual effectiveness of social media, it is an incredibly complicated issue.
One of the biggest problems facing youth expression via social media is the institutional self-censorship of social media. What I mean by that is that while one is allowed to virtually say anything,and support whatever cause one wants on social media, what a person posts, says, or does can directly affect their offline lives as well. Recently there have been many reports of employers asking for access into the employees Facebook. While I understand that it is an easy way to thread out the perverts, slackers, and party animals from the employee pool, it is a clear invasion of privacy. Even if a person is not directly asked for their password during a job interview, knowing that ones ideas may be criticized leads to self censorship. Knowing that standing up for an unpopular cause may utter one unemployed can and does keep them from expressing their opinions and doing what they consider to be the right thing to do.
Social media can have very destructive effects on campaigns. My favorite example has to do with Rick Perry’s “Strong” youtube advertisement. With its blatant anti-gay rhetoric a campaign was organized to show their dislike by giving the video 200,000 thumbs down, and overwhelming majority. I participated in this particular campaign, and while the actual affects will never be know, soon after he dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential campaign.
Even when the internet saavy youth is unaware of the affects of what they post, simply joining a virtual cause may not be enough. John Stewart, the influential Comedy Central host, criticized the effectiveness of social media activism in a recent episode of the Daily Show . In the clip he brings attention to the fact the Kony 2012 campaign, a video relating the war crimes of Joseph Kony, went viral.
It ends with the senior youth correspondent becoming excited and wanting to make a difference about the situation in Syria after viewing a ‘viral’ video featuring a funny dog and an educational voiceover. What the correspondent wanted to do to stop the violence was to put up posters around town. While this may be a good method to raise awareness, it does little to actually change what is occurring in Syria, Uganda, and around the world. My favorite quote from the clip was “this video is very dangerous. Because young people are learning from it and wanting to get involved. It threatens … ignorance based foreign policy[of the US]”.
In regards to ignorance based foreign policy, other critics of this particular social media campaign criticize the ‘slactivist’ culture is perpetuates. As both a Forbes and Mashable articles showed, the campaign is by definition “slactivist”, however, it was created to raise awareness and the power that the youth has to spread messages and bring attention to Ugandan warlords is priceless.
An interesting notion raised in the video has to do with comparing the campaign to the very popular Old Spice commercials. The speaker makes the point that while many people watched the commercial, not everyone who viewed it bought the deodorant, and yet their sales rose. Most people will not go out and make a change, but the sheer size of campaigns of this size makes a difference as it does influence many people.
As Zoe Fox ends her article she poses a powerful question“Do you think slacktivists can be powerful change makers? Are shares and tweets irrelevant compared to other actions?” I argue that one on hand bringing attention to otherwise ignored topics is crucial, but can have negative affects if in fact it is lieu of actual, physical, campaigns to incite change about issues relevent to the youth. If someone created as catchy and eye opening of a video about GenDebt and rising tuition prices, could it be controlled?