To continue our discussion of the role of social media in Internet “outrage” and activism, I’d love to switch the focus to us, the content providers. This post is aimed at readers that consider themselves the creators and purveyors of information, such as us here at Luna Luna and our fellow bloggers-for-a-cause.
Obviously, we believe that we are performing an overall good act for society. We’re trying to educate, trying to promote progress, and trying to combat oppression, and many of us are doing this free of charge—not much bad you can say about that. However, whether you’re Tweeting, blogging, maintaining a Facebook page, etc., you have certain responsibilities to both your cause and your audience that I want to address here.
1. Ensure you’re reporting accurate information.
This seems obvious, but bloggers and Tweeters exist in this interesting not-quite-journalism realm where although people may take you as seriously as they do an article from CNN, there are no fact-checkers and no obligation to verify any information. It is our responsibility to relay information that is as accurate as possible, verified from an accurate source (even when writing an opinion piece!), instead of simply reporting information because it is timely or especially outrageous. Let us all take a note from the Boston bombing media coverage situation, and recognize that it’s much more important to be the blog with the right info than to be the blog with the first info.
Additionally, incorrect information (especially when people are involved) can really damage not only your reputation but the reputation of the person/people you wrote about. Recently, some men’s rights activists (yes, I know) wrongly identified student Rachel Cassidy as a “false rape accuser” and posted her private info online. She received harassing messages and death threats and was forced to remove her social media presence entirely. Now, I imagine feminist websites would be much more careful with the identities of rape victims, but what if it was a rapist we wrongly identified? Once something is out there on the Internet, it’s pretty difficult to erase it completely, and this could cause a whole lot of trouble if the information we’re spreading is wrong.
2. Refrain from inflammatory language.
I know, I know—sometimes we’re just really pissed off! I get that. I am too, and that’s both understandable and okay. Sometimes, a rant is warranted and it can feel really good for both writers and readers.
However, I urge other Internet activists out there to keep this type of angry content at a minimum. Not because it’s disrespectful or because I believe we need to “be the bigger person”—fuck that, I’m sick of women being told to be “nice.” The only reason I advocate for this is because, for many people, as soon as they encounter anger, they shut off. If our goal is education, then it’s really important that we present facts in a civil, clear and non-hostile way. Avoid sarcasm, name-calling, generalizing and stereotyping (i.e. “men are assholes!”), because all that will do is make the people you’re talking about, who are your biggest opportunities to make a difference, stop listening. (See #5 for more on this!)
3. Pick your battles.
It’s easy, especially when you’re thinking about the world through a “gender studies” viewpoint 24/7 (like I am), to collect every situation as evidence of sexism and patriarchal culture, etc. However, it’s really important to remember that not every criticism of a woman is based in misogyny, not every criticism of a black person is rooted in racism, etc. (Kanye West is a great example). Also, remember that when a piece of information is reported, it does not necessarily mean that the reporter believes that the information is morally right, only that it’s factually right. One example is this recent Jezebel post criticizing the list of the “most valuable celebrities” for lacking people of color. Yes, that is true and it is important, but the list (compiled by Vulture based on box office numbers and audience reactions) is not at fault—the industry is.
This reminds me of the one coworker everyone has that marks every e-mail “URGENT,” even those about the communal fridge—after a while, we all stop listening. It’s imperative to be able to identify what really warrants a feminist outrage (assuming you have the correct info, of course!). Otherwise we risk over-saturating our audience.
4. Offer suggestions for improvement/solutions.
While I love Jezebel, one thing that has always driven me crazy about some of their posts is that they feel like nothing but laments. While (as previously mentioned) rants feel good, without providing identifiable and practicable solutions (or at least the beginnings of them), we’re really just participating in another form of slacktivism.
5. Attempt to reach outside your “typical” audience.
One risk we run when writing within these communities is that of “preaching to the choir,” as I discussed in my first post on this topic, and when we do this we’re missing out on a huge opportunity for change. Let’s take feminism for example. While it is valuable to impart information of a “feminist” slant to women, to assist them in forming their opinions on matters and to make them feel less alone, it’s even more valuable in many situations to get this information to men. Think about it—if we’re offering solutions, and many (I’m not saying all!) of the problems are being perpetuated primarily by men, we need to reach these men in order to see a change! It makes sense, right?
Obviously, reaching a wide and varied audience is not as easy as it sounds, but use the tools you have at hand. Post to general audience websites as opposed to just Jezebel or Luna Luna—or, if you’re feeling really brave, post a response on a website with opposing ideals. Use Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit, etc. (social media is one of the great equalizers, in this country at least) to branch out. Don’t be afraid to promote your work, and don’t be afraid to go outside of your familiar zones!
6. Open up room for discussion of all viewpoints.
This, to me, is so so so important. Blogging is different (and in many ways better) than traditional journalism because, similarly to Twitter, it allows readers to interact with their media and introduce both adjacent and opposing opinions. While I understand Nico Lang’s point here about the comments section on blog posts being a hotbed of insults and hurtful assumptions, I strongly believe that, especially in fields such as ours, getting a variety of feedback (hopefully from your variety of readers!) is extremely extremely valuable to the evolution of these ideas. That’s why we’re all part of an online community, isn’t it? Check out the comments here for a really great example of how an article “discussion” might look if it were censored by the author to include only his/her viewpoints (also, just check out that article if you’re looking for your daily dose of WTF.)
That leads me to my last point…
7. Stay open-minded and listen!
Even when we’re reporting civilly on completely accurate information and offering solutions, we’re going to encounter criticism and conflict—especially when we reach out to those outside our typical community. Hopefully, this criticism will be equally civil and constructive, but even when it’s not, it’s important that we consider the points of others. A community such as the one feminists have been able to form online fosters an evolution of thought, and that very word indicates that the thought is never finished changing. We should never, ever be afraid to change our minds, admit we were wrong, even apologize when necessary—and we should ensure that we are leaving room for others to do so, as well.
The best advice, I think, comes from FEMINIST HULK. “TACKLING RACIST CAPITALIST CIS-SEXIST PATRIARCHAL HEGEMONY? SMASH HARD, QUESTION OWN PRIVILEGE, MAKE SURE TO STRETCH FIRST.”
Image via Flickr.
Alecia is a logophile and a library bandit wanted in several states. In addition to feminist rants, she also writes essays, short stories, bad poetry, recipes and very detailed to-do lists. She currently resides in a little blue cabin in Woodstock with one fiancé, one Dachshund and one pleasantly plump cat. Find her tweeting @alecialynn.