Sharing and reposting hot-button issues beneficial only to certain extent

September 26, 2019 — by Nicole Lu

Scrolling through Instagram the week of Aug. 19, I was surprised when my feed and stories were overtaken by friends and influencers posting about the Amazon rainforest on fire. This was oddly familiar to events a few months back, when social media blew up with people turning their profile pictures blue in support of those suffering in Sudan. After a few days, however, these posts crying out for action were mostly gone, and it seemed as though they were not spoken of again. The blue profile pictures disappeared.

The unfolding of controversial news events covered by the press (such as the passing of the Alabama abortion bill and climate change updates) has led to a surge in internet activism, causing speculation about whether or not reposting and sharing events really helps get the problem solved. 

These two methods sound essential and important in theory, but their real effect in promoting change and action is often disappointing, ultimately leading to unwanted byproducts: confusion and misinformation.

Instead, these online protestors should make a conscious effort to actually help with the situation rather than just reposting and moving on.

Take, for example, the Sudan crisis that rocked the international community in June. After it was reported that at least 100 were killed and 600 injured during a military crackdown on unarmed protestors, many took to social media to express their condolences. These protests had been going on for a while and had led to the ousting of the nation’s former leader, Omar al Ashir, in April. 

This dire situation led to worldwide attention and the meteoric rise of the now-deleted Instagram account @SudanMealProject. The account had gained over 400,000 followers and 1.6 million likes before it was taken down by Instagram, but the deed had already been done.

The only post featured on the account was the message, “For every STORY REPOST this post gets, we will provide one meal to Sudanese children, and you will help spread awareness on what’s happening in Sudan.” 

Sound familiar? That’s because this photo was circulating around social media for a week before ultimately being outed as fake. No website or credible organization had been linked to the page, and several knockoff accounts that followed even attempted to scam people for their money. It had not explained how it would achieve this ambitious goal and was instead purposefully preying on people for exposure.

The entire account was only a ploy to gain followers, and no actions for victims in Sudan were actually being achieved with the countless story reposts. People had been spreading misinformation for days, harming the legitimate organizations that were trying to help those in crisis. By acting as social justice warriors in trumpeting change, individuals had hurt real activists and their efforts.

Lack of knowledge concerning the subject is also a huge issue that can mask real activist efforts. Some simply repost without properly educating themselves, which takes the entire point away from initiating change. After all, change starts with education relating to the subject. The simplicity of clicking and sharing makes it harder for individuals to judge what exactly they are promoting and whether they are really looking at it the right way or not.

If individuals were truly educated on the topic, taking on more reliable forms of protesting can have a greater impact than reposting and simply speaking out against policies. Making an effort to research the sources behind issues can limit misinformation. 

Those who are really passionate about a specific topic should also consider donating to trustworthy charities. In lieu of posting about the Amazon rainforest burning, donating to organizations that specialize in putting out forest fires is a much better way for people to get involved. Charities that are proactive in helping stop the disastrous fire include the Amazon Conservation Association and the Rainforest Action Network. 

Authorized by Charity Navigator, a nonprofit that rates charities, the mission statements of these organizations include preserving forests and wildlife. According to the organization’s website, the Amazon Conservation Association has planted more than 275,000 trees to restore critical habitats, while the Rainforest Action Network has been fighting against industries and banks to prevent deforestation since 1985.

Putting one’s money behind legitimate organizations that actually clean up the ocean’s pollution or provide healthcare resources for women (i.e., Planned Parenthood) will make much more of a difference.

With so many hot-button issues prevalent in the world today, a good idea would be taking physical action and writing letters to state representatives instead of simply expressing disappointment online. Additionally, signing petitions and going to real protests are better ways of promoting change. 

Students in the Class of 2020 and 2019 alumni can use elections to express their opinions at the ballot box. By making the effort to be educated on issues that affect them, students can vote into office accredited individuals who pass legislation that makes a difference. Although broken promises are inevitable from politicians, paying attention to what they say is important for students to have their voices heard.

Those under 18 can still make an effort to become educated on relevant issues such as gun control in schools, abortion rights and teen pregnancy, as well as the use of alcohol and drugs. By learning more about these current topics that are applicable to them, students can form their own judgments without bias and gain knowledge for future elections or decisions.

Although many online advocates have pure intentions, the very nature of hot-button issues is that after a while or so there isn’t coverage anymore. The hashtags (i.e. #PrayFor__) that shed light on the subject are virtually forgotten. Names and faces cycle out of the media spotlight too quickly. Most of the issues that were and still are relevant a while ago don’t have as much exposure anymore, simply because people have found other issues that merit attention as well.

Ineffectiveness does not condemn the spread of social media activism; it is the misleading information and self-interest that arises which proves more harm than good.

Awareness is the first step in enacting societal change. If, however, individuals are as passionate about what they believe in as they say they are, making a conscious effort to get involved in change means so much more than a simple story repost.

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