The internet fails on social justice

The blackberry revolution: more than just cats?
Image credit: Flickr: Jerry Jackson

Home to cats, buzzfeed, fails, and lots and lots of porn, the internet has fuelled the hopes and dreams of a generation. In a world fundamentally transformed by the internet, and a world crowded (one might even say over-crowded) by competing campaigns, causes, and clamours for equality here, fights against injustice there, and e-petitions just about everywhere, it’s easy to slip into the complacent belief that ours is the age of social justice, and that its greatest beacon is the internet. 

If only. Online forums of all kinds are becoming ever more isolating as their crucial arguments become lost in abusive jibes, unhelpful confrontationalism, and a belief that you can say what you like in front of a computer in your dressing gown with a fresh cup of coffee to bolster your nerve. The internet completely lacks nuance, and the all-important dimension of body language, accounting for up to 65% of interpersonal communication. It is meaningful dialogue that we need to bring about real change, and the internet fails to provide this by its very nature.

It is a lawless world, in which anonymity reigns supreme, and nobody is held accountable for what they say in any real sense. Facebook-argument-land is one that encourages artificial confrontation to an extent that would never normally occur in face-to-face conversations, and whilst it may be that rebuffing some ‘stupid’ comment on a particular issue makes us feel good about ourselves, and may make us look good as our comments rack up likes, all that results is that we remain smugly set in our own beliefs whilst ensuring that our ‘opponents’ only retreat further into theirs.

There is, of course, more to be said. It is undeniable that the internet has given us an unfathomably immense, resourceful, immediate, and universal bank of information, knowledge, and expertise. Never before has it been possible to access and immerse yourself in so many new ideas, cultures, and conversations. One minute you can be debating the role of men in the feminist cause with international friends, and the next you can be watching world-famous debates about the Catholic Church, and this variety and accessibility has undoubtedly changed and liberalised the way we see the world, being largely responsible for a predominant culture of pluralist, tolerant, open-mindedness that dominates the thinking of our internet generation.

Crucially, however, the internet provides a platform for the ideas of those who might not otherwise have a voice to be heard. For example, studies have shown that men’s voices dominate, and are more widely acknowledged, in debating contexts, and as such, the internet is key in allowing women’s voices to carry as men’s do, and we should not play down the extent in which it has been key to the emancipation of minority voices in the public domain. Similarly, it was the internet that formed the driving backbone of many of the successful ‘Arab Spring’ movements across North Africa and the Middle East, but we have felt only too keenly the adverse affects this use of internet technology can have in London’s own riots in 2011.

Conversely, the internet has been responsible for a new kind of lazy activism as we convince ourselves that liking a photo, clicking a link, and typing an email address into an e-petition is a substitute to standing up for real change. Whilst there are times when such actions can be useful, the eventual fate of campaigns such as KONY 2012 (though successful in achieving certain technical changes) only go to show how inherently limited the active powers of the internet can be. Neither must we forget the horrifying backlash and abuse that is endured by prominent activists who use the internet as a means of spreading their message. The unimaginable trauma suffered by feminists like Caroline Criado-Perez, and the inadequate responses to such cases that Facebook, Twitter, and other outlets have given has shown the total failure of the internet as a safe space for social activism.

Fundamentally speaking, what we need is to take the internet with a very large pinch of salt. We need to choose our fights, and conduct them meaningfully, carefully, and thoughtfully. We need to make these subsidiaries of, and not replacements to, real-life interaction, activism, and protest. The internet has got us this far, but we must accept that for it to take us any further, we must couple it with decisive and affirmative action. The inequalities and injustices of our world demand that we get back out on the streets, that we stop treating wifi as an alternative to real life, and that we work meaningfully together to get where we want to be, and not just #rant about where we are.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Related Stories

In this section

Across the site

Best of the Rest