January 31, 2016
Because of my writing and blogging, I spend a lot of time on social media. I’ve been noticing a trend lately, and I’m not sure what it means for us as a society.
I’ll call it armchair activism.
Armchair activism happens when a person gets really fired up and motivated about some kind of cause. Maybe it’s a social justice issue like racial equality, LGBT rights, or helping the poor. The person feels frustration, indignation, and perhaps even anger.
What does the person do in response? They post a message about the cause on Facebook or Twitter, or they ‘like’ another person’s post to show their support for the cause.
Are there any benefits to armchair activism? Perhaps. Awareness is a precursor to change, so it’s possible that making a Facebook post about a cause leads other people to think about and reconsider their position on an issue. This could lead to changes in voting habits, or perhaps someone actually doing something. More likely, however, it just leads to more armchair activism.
The problem with armchair activism is that it doesn’t necessarily lead to something actually changing for the better in real life. Armchair activism doesn’t provide money or resources. It doesn’t change unjust social structures. It doesn’t build a homeless shelter.
Furthermore, armchair activism may actually reduce motivation to actually do something in real life, because a person might feel as if they have already done something by making the Facebook or Twitter post. The armchair activism could actually reduce the negative emotion and dissonance the person feels about the injustice, making them less likely to do something in real life.
Discussion: What do you think about armchair activism? Do you think it leads to positive change? Or could it do more harm than good?
Image from: http://www.yetanotherengineer.blogspot.com
In my experience it does more harm than good, particularly among young, progressively minded people. I’ve seen Facebook used as an excellent organizing tool to connect like-minded people who are concerned about an issue. But rather than driving them to meet one another and actively work to change something, they sit at home, venting their feelings in online groups and liking each other’s posts/comments. This changes nothing – they all already feel a certain way on an issue so they’re not really changing anyone’s mind, just validating each other’s frustrations. We don’t need to validate one another – we need to be meeting with our legislators. We need to be protesting at our capitols. We need to be collaborating on projects to gather evidence in support of our cause(s).
Instead, we simply pacify one another through validation and ultimately achieve nothing. Perhaps armchair activism is just a symptom of the larger problem – political apathy – but all the same, I personally think “Facebook revolutions” do more harm than good.