The air lays thick. Sweat, tears, pumping fists under sharp sun. Cardboard signs tattooed with Sharpie, etched letters in solidarity. “Black Lives Matter,” “Hands off my Hijab,” “Stop Asian Hate.” The passion is palpable, put pressure on those in power, but what can you do?
But do I know enough- or too little? I’m not from there, yet I want to help. The least I can do is post, but just because they are? People should know, don’t they already? Not my place, but this our reality.
Posting media related to advocacy, social justice, and awareness is a cause of stress for many media immersed teens today. With the risk of spreading misinformation, riding on the performative allyship bandwagon, or feeling an obligation to act, a sense of tension is created when teens share a supposedly simple post with profound impact.
One such pressure on teens is fearing they may spread misinformation in shared media. Social Justice teacher at Riverside Secondary, Dr. Catalin Ursu recognizes this danger, “(on social media) If you pretend that you are delivering information of sorts, then that is very dangerous, disinformation or misinformation. … you are misleading people. And this happens so often, that is why I am very weary and very skeptical of everything that is on Facebook, Twitter, etc. unless it has a very good base.” Following Ursu’s advice about having a critical eye can save teens from the tension of accidentally misinforming online connections.
Similar to timeless peer pressure, bandwagoning and mass chain posting is a growing phenomenon in the cyberspace. Small blurbs urging users to post “if they care” and “if they are human” elicit a feeling of sudden obligation to share, even if viewers do not have enough background to be considered advocates for the cause. “I feel like I’m a bad person if I don’t post it, because people are like ‘you don’t care about the situation. But then, if I post it, I am almost like part of a trend and actually don’t care enough about the situation.” Grade 11 Riverside student Keira Sandrin says, referring to her confusing experience viewing such social justice posts. This sense of obligation and mental stress is, “A very dangerous thing.” Ursu goes on to add that, “if you feel pressured by society and by the public to post, that is not a real post. You are not actually believing in the cause; you are doing it just because you feel the pressure.” Ursu mentions the mental health impact of second-guessing your actions and lacking the judgment to truly commit to a cause, prior to supporting it online, is detrimental.
This misunderstanding and pressure combine to foster ongoing cases of performative activism, or coined term “slacktivism,” in supposed advocates. HuffPost reporter Casey Bond explains how “social media may feel like a safe space to share thoughts without dipping one’s toes too deep into the mess” in his critiquing article. This defines performative activism, the growth of masses that are able to share a few posts and feel as they have done their due, without bringing forth a solution or making change in personal households and communities. On the other hand, Bond credits ally intent, “allies who use social media to write about their feelings, share news stories, repost memes, and debate with others for the purpose of social justice usually do so from a place of compassion. These actions can be incredibly helpful. But to be truly anti-racist, all of that is not enough: Social media is a tool that amplifies allyship, not encompasses it.” Small online effort is not the entire job, often discomfort is required and a bit of motivating stress in order to focus on making a significant difference.
Recognizing such risks in online content sharing is critical to creating the fine balance between teenagers safely managing their advocacy and mental health, and not disregarding the vast positive impacts and often necessary mental influences advocating online can deliver. Ursu affirms his love for social media as an amazing tool for spreading information and educating the masses. Shaun King also professes his admiration, “social media allows compassionate women and men who care about injustice to amplify highly local stories in ways that force them on to the international landscape.”
Another thought inducer for teens is their position or “right” to post, in terms of ethnicity, background, appearance, and affiliations. Should a Caucasian male be able to advocate for his Black counterpart despite the vast differences in their adversities? Sandrin believes that “it shouldn’t matter, a supporter is a supporter, they don’t have to be of that group. … Everyone who cares should show that they do care, not only the people that are of the (targeted) group.” Ursu has a similar view, understanding that justice and injustice transcend race. Posting in alliance provides an opportunity to become a better supporter for marginalized groups.
A proven impact compliments this allyship, as in the case of Sandrin where she speaks of learning of current social justice informational posts circulating on her feed, “about Asian lives, George Floyd, and what is going on in Palestine, (posts) helped me understand (the situation) better.” King also showcases a particular media milestone in his article “Shaun King: Social media and social justice go hand in hand” when a tweet he wrote about police brutality at a local school went viral, an example of expanding the impact and reach of advocating against injustice.
Instances such as these celebrate social media and show that minor mental stress related to online posting may be attributed to a natural reaction when presented with injustice. As long as one manages their reaction, educates themselves, and acts responsibly, that stress can be okay. If, however, teenagers feel overwhelmed by responsibility and overwhelming injustice posts programmed into their feeds, it is a good idea to step away. Steering clear of feeling obligated to post as mentioned by Ursu and ensuring to always follow through with personal advocacy, for fear of becoming the performative activist Bond frowns upon are key considerations. Even picking a set of social justice issues from the endless pile can eliminate the stress in trying to support every cause.
Social media is a colossal melting pot of opinions and advocations sometimes becoming overwhelming when it comes time for teenagers to do their part. Understanding that injustice can cause stress, contemplating online activity, and responding with levelheaded, educated pursuits of specific causes, can provide teens with an ideal headspace when confronted with mass media online. Ursu believes social media is an amazing tool but that, “we are like children who don’t know how to use it.” Which only contributes to problems and stress virtually. However, teenagers today are no longer children when it comes to the online world, but a new generation of advocates. With the right skillsets and mindset management, teens will be able to use social media as a weapon against oppression without stress of online error.
Header photo courtesy of moypapaboris on Adobe Stock
Awareness post graphic courtesy of Riverside Antiracism Club on Instagram