As I stood at the Lincoln Memorial, a barrage of cameras flashed, desperate to capture the historic moment.
The presence of the cameras was no surprise: Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) speech calling for unity and respect at the intersection of feminism could stop anyone dead in their tracks.
Yet, the photos taken almost compulsively by the protesters were not primarily recording the inspirational words or the woman delivering them. Instead, the pictures were selfies, capturing the marchers themselves. The U.S. House minority leader were drowned out by roaring commands to find the best angle for a profile picture. The loudest voice was my own.
Because social media is inherently focused on self-gratification, “woke culture,” or the portrayal of a politically active persona for more likes, prevents substantial activism for progressive causes. A modern liberal’s obsession with posting perfectly edited proof of one’s “wokeness” demonstrates a self-obsession that causes even the mourning of the murder of a innocent black teenager to center around one’s own image.
I went to the Women’s March on Jan. 20, 2018, to protest the first year of President Donald Trump’s tumultuous administration and left with hundreds of pictures of myself. Yet, each speaker’s message faded into the background; the focus seemed to be capturing a selfie with a sign reading “Women Just Want to Have Fundamental Human Rights.”
Proof of our attendance was uploaded to Instagram seconds after my friends and I stepped foot on campus. I changed my profile picture before I even got out of the taxi.
Social media can be an incredibly effective mechanism for political organizations to spread their messages. The explosion of the Black Lives Matter movement could not have happened without social media. #Blacklivesmatter trending on Twitter in 2013 laid the foundation for one of the biggest social movements since the Civil Rights era. If the right person shares its post, the smallest organization can gain national attention. The ease of communication provides a voice to communities that were largely ignored in progressive settings, from queer women of color to transgender sex workers.
Yet, the hundreds of likes I received on my picture in front of the Washington Monument do absolutely nothing for the civil rights movement.
The social media side of woke culture has transitioned from political promotion to self-gratification. The people on my feeds want to be viewed as beacons of wokeness, but serve only to blur the line between caring about self-image and truly fighting injustice.
In this way, social media has desensitized us to the preventable injustices occurring every day. We like the posts that mourn the deaths of our fellow citizens with the same flippancy as a over-edited picture of a friend’s vacation spot. The phrase “thoughts and prayers” has lost meaning; it is too often expressed with no intention of solving problems. If people were actually as frustrated as they claim to be in their digital condemnations, actions to prevent this unnecessary violence would be taking place.
Our heightened exposure to the injustices of the world should incite one reaction: mobilization. Communication is simpler than ever before, and we should use it to improve the lives of others.
Organizations like Georgetown Solidarity Committee have coupled fingers-on-keys with boots-on-the-ground activism to create tangible change. The club’s sit-in to protest Georgetown University’s deal with Nike, a company that was criticized for human rights violations committed in its factories in Vietnam, brought schoolwide and national attention to injustices being perpetuated on campus, prompted by far-reaching social media posts picked up by national news. Before I even made the decision to attend Georgetown — let alone step foot on campus — I was learning about important campus issues through pictures of students in administrative offices and Facebook posts updating me on the situation.
GSC’s actions, along with its media exposure, pressured the administration to make substantial changes to its policies by drawing the entire campus into the movement, an achievement only attainable through the power of social media.
GSC’s strategy worked. By defining social media as a tool rather than a lifestyle, it was able to effect change in a flawed society.
Use social media to reach people you never thought you could reach before. Bombard your family and friends with ways to get involved locally. Get yourself to the polls. Register voters. Canvass for your local politician. Send letters to your congressman or congresswoman. Attend a protest. Volunteer for Planned Parenthood. Do something.
Social media should promote ongoing social change, not serve as its stand-in. We must separate looking good from doing good. There is no definition for perfect activism, but we must start by removing self-promotion.
Maya Moretta is a freshman in the College.