Students gathered in 41 Wyllys on Tuesday, Feb. 16 at 5 p.m. to discuss the positive and negative consequences of social media activity as it relates to political and social justice movements worldwide. Titled “Don’t Post About It Be About It,” the event focused primarily on the way social media is used among members of the black community, as well as their supporters. The discussion also sought to explore how online activism may or may not be translated into real world action, in addition to the ways in which people may bridge the gap between the virtual and the physical.
“Don’t Post About It” was organized as part of the Black History Month event series. Ujamaa members Hailey Broughton-Jones ’18, Victoria King ’18, and Aaron Morgan ’16 led the discussion, and Kaiyana Cervera ’19 and Rachel Godfrey ’19 were also part of the event organizing committee. The five met weekly leading up to the event to talk about the structure of the discussion and their general goals for what they hoped would come about as a result.
Morgan shared how he first became involved with the planning of the “Don’t Post About It” event, which started with an email he received through the Ujamaa Listserv.
“The minute I scrolled down and saw that they were tinkering with idea of social media and the intersection of social justice activism as a topic, I was immediately drawn to it and let them know I wanted to help them with the event,” Morgan wrote in an email to The Argus. “I think this is a such a relevant topic in that we are living in an age where social media is continuing to revolutionize the way [the] American public is viewing and engaging with various social issues, especially as it relates to youth participation across the the United States and the globe.”
Morgan added how he and his fellow event organizers wanted to keep “Don’t Post About It Be About It” relevant to current events while also honoring Black History Month.
“I think it is important to recognize that events such as this, convocation, and the film series, are largely geared from Ujamaa’s celebration of Black History Month,” Morgan wrote. “In doing so, the thought process of organizing events like this stemmed from trying to create events that touch upon key issues, events or phenomena that are of relevance to black communities that also affect the rest of the nation at large. Hence, I think we as a group (Hailey, Victoria and I) thought it would be a great idea to talk about the relevance of social media and how its emergence and proliferating culture has revolutionized the way we hear, interpret, and engage with current issues today, #BlackLivesMatter being one of the hottest topics.”
Broughton-Jones, King, and Morgan began by asking attendees about their initial views regarding black activism on social media and what they hope to gain from the open discussion.
“It’s really easy to just be critical about things, and I’m kind of tired of having conversations that are like that, so I want this conversation to also be about some of the positive things that I think social media does,” said Taylor McClain ’17, a student attendee.
Following opening remarks, the leaders introduced the first activity of the discussion, which involved personal reflections on social media usage. The goal was to make attendees aware of what they have posted about in the distant past versus what they post about now.
“I want everyone to pull out your smartphones if you have them…and we’re gonna take a trip back in time on our own timelines,” Broughton-Jones said. “Technology is a great thing, and we can go back a few months or years within a few seconds….Go back as far as you can go…and see how you used your social media platform for your voice and what you were posting about.”
After a few minutes of searching, students reconvened to share some of their online content from years past.
“Most of my timeline has a lot of foolishness on it, but I guess the first time I posted something relevant was the Trayvon Martin case coming out, and I was so disappointed with the outcome of the trial,” King said. “That was the first time I spoke out about social injustice [online], and I felt like that was a big moment for me.”
The discussion then shifted toward viral Internet phenomena from the recent past, including the Kony 2012 movement, Black Lives Matter, and the University of Missouri protests. Most of these movements gained ground on social media platforms, resulting in the creation of hashtags such as #ConcernedStudent1950, #BlackLivesMatter, and #IfTheyGunnedMeDown.
Organizers then showed a CNN video about Elle Lucier, a 19-year-old teen from Atlanta, who had spearheaded a march against racial injustice and police brutality in the wake of the Michael Brown ruling in 2014. She also created the hashtag #ItsBiggerThanYou to unite supporters online.
Following the video, attendees started a conversation about the occasional emptiness of hashtags in that users often copy and paste the content to conform without truly internalizing it. In other words, the argument is that certain people use hashtags to hide behind a movement, but do nothing apart from posting a status in support of a movement. In recent years, a rising number of people have begun to recognize this form of online activism as “slacktivism” in that no real effort is made to help a cause. In addition, some students mentioned how although hundreds of people may RSVP for a given social justice event on campus or beyond, many do not bother showing up.
Sahil Singhvi ’18, an RA in 200 Church, mentioned a photoshoot campaign held to stand in solidarity with Mizzou that he felt did not end up carrying weight with the people who showed up to participate.
“There were, like, 250 people coming in and out who came to take pictures with these signs that had the hashtags on them,” Singhvi said. “At the end of it…it didn’t end up meaning much. We sent those pictures over to Mizzou and they put them in the newspaper, but for the community as a whole, outside of the few individual conversations I had with some of my residents, there was no real processing session.”
To end the event, attendees broke up into small groups to further discuss individual feelings about and reactions toward activism on social media as well as how to mitigate its negative consequences.
Morgan emphasized the importance of inclusivity with respect to the discussion.
“I cannot speak for the other organizers but for me personally, I wanted it to be a space where everyone regardless of identity or background felt comfortable to speak with their own personal or unique perspective on this particular issue of social justice activism on social media,” Morgan wrote. “I wanted it to be a space for learning and of reflection where people can bounce off ideas to either alter their perspectives or further sharpen their views….Learning in my experience often comes in two main forms, speaking and listening. Fortunately, I think we had a mix of both, which was great.”
Morgan, along with a group of another students, will hold a formal in celebration of Black History Month Thursday at 9 p.m. in Russell House.