Social Media Activism Can Be Fraught
Hey, I get it. You’re an activist, but you have a boss, a family, neighbors, that one dude from high school, and several law enforcement agencies with access to your social media feed. Newsflash: even if you don’t realize it, that first sentence is something you should assume to be true. So. How do you #resist and stay (mostly) out of trouble?
1) Speech has consequences. Be prepared to back up what you say and be able to defend it to any or all of the above. Your online presence is creating your “brand”. Make sure it’s a brand you want. It affects the effectiveness of your social media activism.
2 )Double check your sources before posting. Use Snopes, Politifact, and other fact finding sites to verify what you post before posting. Good social media activism includes verifiable facts in every argument.
3 )Don’t make threats, don’t doxx, don’t make “jokes” about harming others, don’t post imprecatory prayers. Stochastic terrorism is not a tool of the resistance. Not even once.
4) State your position clearly and back it with logic, facts, data, illuminating metaphor, and anything else that supports your position. This includes stories about yourself and about others who have given permission for you to share their stories.
5*) If someone is posting the same old tired argument, and there’s no essential reason to engage with them, don’t. Mute or block, or simply move on. If you need to address the argument, do it generally rather than in response to this one person.
6) Think before you hit send, especially if you’re tired or angry. Calling someone obscenity spiced insulting names might feel good in the moment, but you’re likely to regret it, if nothing else because you didn’t take the time to thoroughly humiliate their argument rather than take the cheap and easy way out. It makes your social media activism less effective.
7*) If someone on Facebook or Twitter appears dangerous, block them and report them (after screen printing) and block their followers as well. You don’t need that ish. If they’re annoying but not dangerous, it’s up to you whether to block, mute, or engage. Only you can judge the amount of time and energy you have for social media activism.
8) Remember you are writing not only for the person you’re interacting with, but any followers as well. Phrase your answers with those followers as well, assuming good faith long enough to counter some of the bad faith arguments for the sake of those following along.
9*) Always be aware of how remarks taken out of context can look if a screenshot is taken and used against you. Many public figures have had huge scandals built from out of context words. Be sure you have the original context handy to defend yourself.
10*) Never respond more than three times in the same conversation without give and take unless it’s an old and established relationship and you’re *positive* that it is acceptable in the context of that relationship.
11) Set your boundaries firmly and enforce them in any spaces you actually control or mostly control. Repeat as needed. Have a set of commenting rules (I need to get on that, don’t I? In the meantime, Wil Wheaton’s “Don’t be a dick” is a close approximation).
12) Cussing is a personal choice. If you do it, do it effectively and be prepared to justify it. Even if it is appropriate and effective, it can lead to loss of opportunities, so use it mindfully.
13) When you’re hungry, angry, tired, sick, or in some other way less likely to keep your personal rules in place, step away from the keyboard. It can wait. Save the post to return to it if you simply must respond, *after* a nap or a meal or some medicine.
14) Remember that truth is an absolute defense against libel and slander and use it accordingly. Social media activism will make you some enemies. Some of those enemies will make threats. Make sure that those threats are empty, when it comes to defamation.
15) Don’t let particularly fraught conversations be taken to someone else’s space or to private messages. This is almost always done in an attempt to isolate and abuse. Either end the conversation or keep it at the same level of privacy it started at.
16) Don’t send unsolicited nudes. Don’t send *any* nudes if you or the potential recipient is under 18. If you receive unsolicited nudes, it’s completely appropriate to forward them to law enforcement, spouses and parents, and to include unsolicited feedback on the (generally low) quality of the nudes. Sending nudes is not part of social justice activism, but usually simply a dick move (pun intended) to change the subject. Best avoided.
17) Nothing goes away on the Internet. Determined searchers *will* find those things you regret saying. Yes, I really was a libertarian for over a decade, and a Randian one at that. If that old stuff is dug up, don’t deny it, contextualize it. That means, admit to it, and then tie it to your current social media activism and who you are today.
18) Observe the rules of the space you’re in. Every online space is someone’s living room. Don’t crap in the middle of the floor and then demand the owner cleans it up. Offer to help clean up if someone *else* craps in the middle of the floor.
19) Punch *up*, not down. Jokes should be pointed at people in power, not people in historically or currently oppressed groups. If you’re not sure which way the punching goes, rewrite the joke until you are.
20) You will disagree with other activists about methods and means and primary goals. This is okay. We become stronger when we engage in these conversations and really listen to each others’ points of view. Even if we never agree, compromises will move our goals forward and give us a new place for the next stage.
21) Social justice activism is intersectional. In any conversation, there are going to be people who come primarily from privilege, those who come primarily from oppression, and those with a true mix of both. If you are in a position of relative privilege, slow down and listen at least twice as much as you speak in these conversations.
22) You will have different hot topics than other activists. You will have different boundaries, different tactics, and different views of “what happened”. That’s okay. All (at least most) of those positions are valid, and can build on one another.
23) You don’t have to like other activists. If you don’t like their method of activism, you don’t have to support it or even engage with them. You get to choose whether to criticize or disengage. Don’t let anyone goad you into speaking on their pet subject on their terms. Your voice is yours, not theirs.
24) Many activists have a lot of righteous anger in places you may not. It is totally okay for them to express that anger. It is also totally okay to say, in your own space, “not right now, not this space”, but be prepared for “if not now, when, if not here, where”, because that is a valid response to your boundary.
25) Try not to eat our own. We have enough enemies who literally want us dead or crushed under their heels that it’s totally not necessary to fight turf wars over five feet of desert. Really.
26) Avoid -isms. If someone says, “Hey, did you know that [thing] is [racist/sexist/homophobic]”, you can say “no, I didn’t, thanks for letting me know, fixing it now,” or simply “fixing”. Long rants about how [thing] isn’t [racist/sexist/homophobic] generally prove that you were wrong and result in “sorry, I was wrong, fixing”, in the long run anyhow. Might as well save the energy.
27) Look for people to include and elevate in your online activism, particularly people from underrepresented groups within the movement. Mention them in tweets, link to their work, comment on their posts, tell others about them.
28) Don’t use your friends or family as shields against accusations of [racist/sexist/homophobic] beliefs or content. Don’t drag your friends from an oppressed population into a conversation with a detractor without explicit permission beforehand and without honoring their emotional labor (cash is generally sufficiently honoring). If you do this stuff, *apologize*. It was wrong to do so.
29) Spread good memes. Retweet and share posts by people who make good points. Help good ideas and good writers get famous on social media.
30) Stop and step away from the keyboard on a regular basis. When you flounce from a thread, a) leave, and b) stay gone. While gone from the keyboard, recharge and live your life.
30a) Take your activism into “meatspace” where and when you can. Register people to vote. Call representatives. Knock doors. Attend protests and meetings. Advocate. Have one on one conversations. Build relationships with people with whom you disagree, so you can call on those relationships later to create compromises.
None of this is any guarantee that you won’t get in trouble for your social media activism, but it should help you avoid some of the trickiest challenges, including legal and relationship issues.
*Starred Rules are paraphrased or quoted from Jane Carnall, who stepped up when I asked for help formulating these for myself. Once I formulated them for myself I realized that they had greater applicability. I greatly appreciate her help.
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