April 16, 2024
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Proceed With Caution: The Dangers of Social Media Advocacy in the 21st Century

My generation, those born in the early 2000s, post everything on social media. Platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter allow us to keep up with friends and acquaintances by scrolling through posts of their recent adventures and major life announcements. Yet, since the outbreak of COVID-19 and the brutal murder of George Floyd, the posts on my social media feeds have quickly transitioned from photos of friends and family to political messages. During this tumultuous time, the spike in online advocacy makes sense. The content on social media should be consistent with the political climate of the world. The majority of the time, I appreciate my peers’ passion and initiative in expressing their opinions and beliefs through these platforms. However, there are certain dangers implicit in social media advocacy. Many users utilize these platforms to promote misinformation, emotion as fact and anti-Semitism and other hate speech, which undermine the power of advocacy and run counter to the goal that my generation seeks to achieve.

Progress is made by having difficult conversations, and while it may seem that social media advocacy is an easier means to this goal, it is significantly less effective. Hiding behind a computer screen allows users the false comfort of a hidden identity and impaired sense of sympathy. People are villainized and causes are delegitimized. On countless occasions, I have seen Jews and people of color baselessly blamed for the rise and spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. I have seen intersectionality used as a weapon, claiming that those who support Trump cannot support Black Lives Matter and those who support the Democratic party must approve of all the violence associated with the Black Lives Matter movement. I have seen accounts criticized because they “weren’t advocating properly” and people criticized for being “too sensitive” to offensive acts. These individuals are making an enemy out of strangers, only to try and argue their narrow point of view.

The power to express one’s opinion also comes with the responsibility to educate oneself and present accurate information. One of the dangers of social media advocacy is that often only one side of the story is presented and people post radical political opinions without any logic or facts to support them. Many users on Twitter, Facebook and the like only follow accounts that agree with them politically—meaning that all of the content on their feeds is similar to their own beliefs. The book “The Enigma of Reason,” by Dan Sperber and Hugo Mercier, explains that this trend occurs because people’s first instinct is to justify their beliefs and then project them onto other people. They don’t seek out truth because subconsciously they do not want to change their mind. The danger in this is that the youth and adolescents who frequent these platforms use biased posts as their sole source of information, thereby creating an uninformed opinion and perpetuating the cycle. This bubble of uniformity gives users a distorted view of reality and the false illusion that their opinions are the only ones that are correct. To be a true activist, one must be informed on all sides of the issue to effectively argue one’s point, which not only helps the person convince others of their view but also supports a true debate.

The problem, though, is not social media itself; it is that my generation does not yet have a grasp on how to successfully advocate through this new medium. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2019 reports that over two-thirds of social media users are frustrated by political conversation online and have a harder time finding common ground with those opposing them. Another Pew study showed that 85% of those surveyed feel that political discourse has become less civil and less fact based in recent years. Change does not arise from false information or cyberbullying. It comes from knowledge, open-mindedness and civil discourse. Successful advocacy should not be measured by the most clever or aggressive post, but instead by the most truthful, persuasive argument.

Social media platforms are a double-edged sword, toxic and dangerous if mishandled but a very influential tool in activism if utilized correctly. Many organizations, notably The Simon Wiesenthal Center, where I am currently participating in their Government Advocacy Internship Program, makes tremendous efforts to eliminate hate speech from social media and bring out the truth that is often omitted. The Wiesenthal Center created two apps—CombatHate and Digital Terror and Hate—so my generation and others can report harmful posts. In order to ensure civil discourse online we need to redefine the rules of social media advocacy so it includes honesty and integrity. We need to learn how to make the conscious effort to educate ourselves on multiple narratives and not take the information presented at face value. We need to stand up for our beliefs without invalidating the beliefs of others. We are living in the heart of the fight and the results of our advocacy will be ours to live with for decades to come. This is our call to action.


Serena Bane, resident of Englewood, New Jersey, is an incoming freshmen at Barnard College. Bane spent the past year studying abroad at Midreshet Lindenbaum and prior to that attended The Frisch School, where she graduated with the Class of 2019. She is currently participating in the Wiesenthal Center’s Government Advocacy Internship Program to promote civil discourse and understanding in politics and to combat anti-Semitism and intolerance among other marginalized groups.

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