Twitter can generate activism, but it can also be an echo chamber

| Senior Forum Editor

Twitter, like almost all forms of social media, initially draws you in with it’s irresistible constant production of tweets, but also lays a trap in which you inadvertently become sucked into a word of politics, clickbait videos and endless arguing.

Besides people from high school I’m too lazy to unfollow, the accounts that I most regularly read are those of news organizations. Like most people my age and political leaning, I follow CNN, in addition to the BBC (and also some other small-ish organizations) so that I can say I have a “well-rounded view.”

Of course, by the nature of self-selection, it’s easy to create a self-perpetuating echo chamber. The accounts that I choose to follow—whether news groups or friends—all sort of say the same thing. They’re not pro-Trump, they speak out on major issues and, in general, they’re all anti-racism/sexism/transphobia/etc. It’s easy to slip into a dream world where it seems like everyone is on the same page.

Sometimes, this self-selection goes a step further and extends to the audience. In response to the 2016 election, many people—even those with thousands of followers—would post, “If you voted for Trump please unfollow/unfriend me immediately.” If you keep people with differing views from viewing your tweets in the first place, whose minds are you hoping to change by posting at all?

There’s this informal coalition of unofficial journalists—occasional freelance writers, bloggers or even just mass-tweeters—who will posts threads (long series of sequential tweets) informing their followers of incidents of injustice. Many of these are valid, horrifying events that they think should be on the news, so they create a mini news network of their own. If you look at the replies, the majority of people are equally as horrified, further compounding the Twitter Bubble.

But the fact of the matter is that it’s not mainstream media, and it doesn’t represent mainstream beliefs. If people—Twitter users specifically—want their activism to spread beyond the screen of their laptops or smartphones, they need to log off. Yes, Twitter is an excellent disseminator of information, but it is also a facilitator of delusion.

Sometimes, this activism stems from Twitter itself. In response to the Charlottesville alt-right, white nationalist protests, Twitter user Shaun King (@ShaunKing) crowdsourced his 773,000 followers and identified a group of six violent men that brutally attacked DeAndre Harris, leading to the arrests of two. Social media doesn’t have to be purely social—it can also enact real change; it just has to be used properly.

Once someone’s carefully curated following/followers list reaches a certain point, it helps spur this kind of screen-based confidence. Here, the ultimate roast is to reply to an alternative viewpoint just to prove its ridiculousness. It’s easy enough to shame someone into submission in the internet’s public arena, but actually changing someone’s mind takes nuanced, informed debate—and it certainly more than a meme.

Switching from one social media site to another and taking a look at the Facebook pages of local representatives can open doors into ways to help in local neighborhoods, which, at the end of the day, feels a whole lot better than reading yet another argument between two people deeply entrenched in their own viewpoints.