Over-Sharing: Why Social Media Sharing of Hot-Button Articles Is Not Enough
Thanks to my group of well-curated, liberal, like-minded friends, my Facebook news feed has been dominated lately by new of the protests in Baltimore. With an increased awareness of the police brutality that arguably has always been there, my activists friends have been voicing their outrage on their Facebook walls. Telling the world that this is wrong. We can't continue to live in a society where this kind of institutionalized racism is acceptable. This has to stop.
And it does. But I've largely kept my virtual mouth shut on this matter. Or, frankly on any hot button political matter. Other than what I've written myself about gender equality, and an unfortunate but hilarious night-long rant where I live-tweeted the entire Romney-Obama debate, I've been actively trying not to share political articles. Not because I don't think they're worthwhile, but because I think they're hindering society's debate and progress on these topics. The problem with the constant sharing of these articles is that none of them are actually sparking a conversation about the topics they're written about. We share them on our walls, posting them into the ether, and in the best-case scenario, friends will comment on them. Maybe even some high school friend with a differing view will chime in with something totally unacceptable and close-minded, and you'll write back, first trying to find a common ground, all the while trying to steer them in the "right" direction. But then after two or three interchanges, you remember that you never liked them in high school and they were part of the reason you moved away in the first place. And then with one "delete", any meaningful debate is ended.
Most times, these articles get shared, read, but never discussed. And what's compounding the problem is the fact that because we've shared them, we feel like we've done our part for the debate. Unfortunately, just because we've shared our opinions on Facebook doesn't mean we've shared them in the real world. I could share hundreds of articles online, but if I want the real world to know my thoughts, I need to say things like: "I know you didn't mean it in a rude way, but it's offensive when you use the term 'retarded", or ask my other mom friends "what are you teaching your kids about race and what's going on with all the protests?" or explain to my son "sometimes parents have two mommies, or two daddies, and that's completely normal".
If we're going to change the world for the better, the one-on-one, in-person conversations are where it's going to happen. It's going to happen by each of us teaching our kids to be accepting of everyone. It's going to happen by pointing out that there's not enough diversity in your work place. It's going to happen by being the awkward girl at the party that tells your friend's spouse that what he just said was homophobic. As much as I wish it could, it's just not going to happen just by sharing Facebook articles. We need to be our bold, activist, online personalities in real life.
That's not to say that social media can't be helpful in our fight against inequality (if you need any proof of the power of social media, look at Twitter's role in the Arab Spring). But it will always require the next step to make the difference. Just because you've shared an article doesn't mean your job is over. The best example (and aspiration that I hope to live up to) came from a mom-friend of mine who had read my article on things to do with your kids in the winter. In the article, I suggested what we always do with our son when we're cooped up, which is to go to one of the downtown Boston hotels and let him run around the lobby. It's warm, there are tons of people there, and he gets to tire himself out running up and down the stairs. My friend, who is white and whose husband is black, pointed out to me that for families of color, lingering in a hotel lobby isn't an option. Thanks to her follow-up conversation, I realized that this was something I never even considered, and I have to say it's something that I now think about often, that without even knowing or trying, I experience white privilege on a daily basis. That this simple assumption that I was making every day is where the root of the problem is. She could have posted 100 articles on her facebook wall and they wouldn't have made nearly the impression that 5 minute conversation took.
The solution obviously isn't to stop sharing these articles. It's great that so many people have such wise things to say. But please, don't feel like your role is over once you've hit "share". The conversations should just be starting, and as hard and awkward as I know it can be, they should be in person. So share this particular article with a friend, and then suggest you talk about it with them, because I think we can all agree that there is a lot to talk about in our country right now.