News

From Beef to Bots? Harvard Professors Mired in Debate Over Spam Emails, Industry-Funded Research

News

Days Before Deadline, Environmentalist Overseer Campaign Harvard Forward On Track To Reach Nomination Goal

News

Swissbäkers Reopens Allston Location in Light of Recent Closures

News

Harvard Scientists Find Stress Makes Hair Turn Gray

News

The New Gen Ed Lottery System, Explained

Columns

A Begrudging Case for 'That Kid On Your Newsfeed'

The merits of Internet activism

By Sam H. Koppelman

There’s almost nothing more annoying than “that kid on your newsfeed.”

You know who I’m talking about: that dude who promotes the cause of the day on social media, signs online petitions, and embraces the title of Social Justice Warrior, even though the closest thing to a war he’s ever engaged in constitutes the exchange of few nasty Facebook comments.

On the surface, this Kony 2012-inspired, #SMH-writing, tilde-abusing Internet expert appears to be as impotent as the 65-year-old protagonist of a Cialis ad. But behind what ostensibly seems like attention grabbing is a sobering truth: these posts are a necessary component of the cultural consciousness.

Some of these kids are absolutely intolerable. So, please, as I make the following defense of That Kid On Your Newsfeed, do not picture the Self-Righteous Privileged Kid On Your Newsfeed—the white, straight, cis private school student body president who laments on Facebook that the criminal justice system is giving him an anxiety attack (who, me?). He remains incomprehensibly aggravating.

But for every irritating, ignorant, or even offensive newsfeed kid I’ve seen, there’s been someone out there contributing positively to the public discourse, someone who might not have been able to do so without the Internet.

And when you look at the most important social movements of the past several years, from the Arab Spring to #BlackLivesMatter, the Internet has been a critical battleground for organization, messaging, and collective action.

As the most prolific Facebook poster from my graduating class in high school, Lanny Anais, explained to me over Facebook message: “Facebook posts seem inconsequential, until [they] get shared a hundred thousand times and then end up [on] twitter and then end up on tumblr and before you know it, a million people have gotten a message.”

But Internet activists like Anais don’t strictly use Facebook to get their own points across—they use it to report the news. “Regarding advocacy against systems of oppression, like white supremacy and the patriarchy,” Lanny explained, “news outlets and mass media let a lot of things get swept under the rug.”

Given that I’ve worshipped the news ever since watching All The President’s Men at eight years old, this is a hard reality for me to swallow. But no matter how many hours of Rachel Maddow I watch, I can't help but sympathize with the newsfeed kid on this one.

“When a black person dies, it's either not reported on at all, or the person's name is dragged through the mud on the news so as to cover up the racism and injustice behind the death,” Lanny continued. “We saw it with Michael Brown, we saw it with Freddie Gray and Eric Garner, we even saw it with 12-year-old Tamir Rice.”

“THAT’S why we have people… on the ground live tweeting during protests—sending us videos and first hand accounts, because otherwise, we get a victim-blaming version of the truth.”

On the one hand, Lanny is exactly right: Social media can give us a direct lens into live injustices without the filter of the mainstream media. But, as she admits, this is because some new-age activists actually go into the field and report, as opposed to That Kid On Your Newsfeed who writes statuses from the comfort of his bed.

That said, my previous hatred of Internet activism was misguided because I paid more attention to the lack of concrete change these movements created than the people they reached. After all, if you view newsfeed kids as modern day Woodward and Bernsteins—striving to expose, rather than simply fight injustices—their from-a-bed activism makes much more sense.

Instead of resenting movements like #BringBackOurGirls for their failure to provide results, we should appreciate them for bringing attention to the atrocities being committed in places like Nigeria. Rather than stew in frustration over the continued lack of concrete legislative changes made in response to #BlackLivesMatter, we should acknowledge that had it not been for the digital elements of this movement, millions of people might not know about Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, or Tamir Rice.

So, even if I don’t fully understand the machinations behind Internet activism, I can appreciate it, because like a 65-year-old who has just taken Cialis, when the time for action is right, That Kid On Your Newsfeed will be ready.


Samuel H. Koppelman ’18, a Crimson editorial executive, lives in Leverett House.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tags
Columns