This is an opinion article. Any views expressed belong solely to the author and are not representative of The Cluster.
Mercer University students pride themselves in the motto, “at Mercer, everyone majors in changing the world.” But since March of this year, it has been incredibly difficult for students to actively participate in changing the world due to COVID-19. Naturally, many of us have turned to our keyboards and smartphones to advocate for low-contact action.
However, while most people start out with good intentions, many end up letting their emotions overrule rationality and participate in ugly internet wars. Oftentimes, these result in relationships with family members and friends being destroyed, along with any chances of employment.
Whether talking about systemic racism, police brutality, justice reform, immigration reform, human trafficking, COVID-19, international tensions, natural disasters, climate change or the upcoming election, most of us have seen the ugly side of online arguments. While some of us complain about censorship, we forget that “cancelling” others is essentially the same idea. While some of us may be “doxing” people we love to hate, we do not take our own safety into consideration if someone retaliates, nor do we think about how our messages of good will may become immediately unreliable.
A more prevalent issue concerning the culture of social justice on social media is the popular idea that if anyone is not focusing on only one particular issue or not posting about all social issues, they must be ignorant and hateful. As someone who long ago became tired of the constant rhetoric thrown around on social media during discussion of important issues, I find this idea incredibly egotistical and downright toxic.
What does this kind of pressure do to college students who are still learning to form their own educated opinions in an effort to understand how the world works? Many students give into this pressure and post about spotlight issues constantly in an effort to not be “cancelled” while not actually doing anything else outside of social media to change things for the better. They learn that they are able to get away with looking like they are amazing justice warriors while not actually doing any productive work. They learn to become incompetent leaders. This is performative, and it increasingly cheapens the meaning of many social justice movements.
Although social justice efforts on Instagram and Facebook have good intentions, they have become increasingly toxic and hostile toward people who do not constantly post about social justice. How can we avoid contributing to this toxic social media environment and stop being performative? We can spend our precious time here becoming informed by reliable news sources and becoming involved in whichever actions help create positive change.
In fact, Mercer has a multitude of clubs and student organizations geared towards justice with most offering meetings over Zoom. Additionally, Facebook gives everyone the opportunity to protest safely and productively by joining Facebook Groups focused on reaching Congresspeople and Senators. If we want to continue changing the world, let’s do so positively and productively. Let’s not waste our time inserting ourselves into online disputes.