With the current generation having more access to electronic devices and social media than ever, it’s easy to get caught in the way younger people tend to think.
I don’t mean to generalise, but in my own experience it’s the younger individuals (Gen-Z’s most poignantly) that present themselves on social media as left-wing. Whether it’s through memes posted on Facebook, informative graphics on Instagram stories or live-tweeting PMQs, there’s a lot of left-wing material that can be found online.
I think Corbyn had a huge impact on this. His seemingly humble personality led him to become depicted on social media as a kind of hero for the people (at least on my personal Twitter feed). I was convinced that last December would lead to real change, because of everything I had seen online. But as the results came tumbling in on the eve of December 13th, it was clearly too good to be true. The Tories won, with Corbyn losing quite significantly. Where was all this support I had seen on social media at the polls?
Well, it turns out, it wasn’t there at all. But, it wasn’t a lack of younger people voting. I think it was that politics on social media tends to stand out more, or have a larger following, if it’s left-wing. So, in turn, left-wing politics gets more attention on social media whilst right-wing beliefs are criticised immensely (you only need to look as far as the Conservatives Twitter page to see this).
Another thing that I’ve noticed recently is the role that performative activism plays in making social media seem like a revolution, when in reality change is miniscule. The most poignant example here is the BLM movement, wherein the #blackouttuesday posts on Instagram amounted to a considerable higher number than the amount of signatures on petitions for George Floyd, or contributors to his memorial fund.
When given the option, people will take the easy way out. If posting a black screen on Instagram stops the guilt of not having signed any petitions or actually contributed to activism in any way, that’s what people will do. And that’s what people, including huge celebrities (I’m looking at you, Kylie Jenner), did do. This is a prime example of performative activism.
And, unfortunately, performative activism is everywhere. It has also appeared in the likes of social media companies recently.
Katie Hopkins, one of the most well-known right-wing figures in Britain, had her Twitter account removed. This was after years of relentless abuse and horrific lies. A lot of people were happy with this decision, as was I, but it did make me question what good this does.
Sure, she won’t be spouting abusive, homphobic, xenophobic, far-right lies on Twitter anymore. But she still exists freely – no action was taken towards her person, despite the threats she produced, and this has arguably given her more anger to fuel her pit of hatred. So, although Twitter taking down her account was seen as some small kind of revolution, I don’t believe it’s had the ground-breaking effect they meant it to have.
To summarise, social media is a confusing place.
It made me believe that Trump was never going to win, because everyone I followed across various platforms agreed he was incompetent.
It made me believe that Corbyn would be fine – that, despite the right-wing papers slandering his name, enough people supported him.
It made me think that change was happening across the world, as millions of people tweeted/posted their responses to horrors happening in the world.
But, what you are seeing on social media is likely just what you want to see. Why follow people whose views you disagree with massively, or whose opinions are harmful for you personally? I personally avoid all those big celebrities (mostly British talk-show hosts) on social media, and follow people interested in similar ideas to me.
Statista found that 49% of people worldwide use social media. Although that’s a huge number of people, there’s a massive proportion of people who don’t.
So, my only advice here is to not be fooled by social media. Use your voice, participate in actual activism, and never be complacent with the information that social media presents.
Photo courtesy of Sara Kurfe