Khalid is adamant that we are “at the mercy” of scrolling. That is, anyone from artists and creatives to advertisers and corporations must make their content worth stopping for. It must be attention-grabbing, immediately recognizable, and worthy of a share. I was inspired by Khalid’s talk, because while this kind of content is usually chastised in think-pieces as Just Another Thing Those Horrible Millennials Do, it is clear that this content is not only impactful, but revolutionary.
Too often, social media and the people who use it are painted as lazy, unmotivated, young people with short attention spans and poor social skills. But what is not always fully realized is that social media can facilitate revolutionary causes. There is often an argument that people on social media are participating in “slacktivism” or “clicktivism.” This is a valid grievance, as many people at least initially involve themselves in causes through social media, leaving their work on the screen. But this is not necessarily a bad thing. First, most “slacktivism” is just the initial entry-point into other forms of activism. We cannot expect all people to care about revolutionary causes if they have never accessed information about these causes before. Social media serves to inform people about these issues first, and to allow people to grow, learn, and gain momentum at an incredibly fast pace. While some work may stay on the screen, others could use this knowledge and engage in other forms of dissent and disruption, such as protest. That being said, it is also not necessarily negative for some activism to remain confined to a screen. Protesting takes physical and mental health that not everyone has, while screen activism can be done for people who are not able-bodied. Protesting also requires a certain socio-economic status; if someone is worried about losing their job and not having enough for even the most basic resources, taking to Twitter might be far safer than taking to the streets.
Yet we are still quick to judge millennials and others who use it as a form of activism. I am wondering, then, if part of this resistance stems from the belief that young people do not have the capabilities, time, or will to turn “slacktivism” into a revolution. Regardless of the histories of young people starting and succeeding in revolutionary work, we still view the efforts of young people as frivolous or “phases.” This is fascinating, because even very recent history proves otherwise, whether by pointing to the role of social media in Obama’s 2008 election, the use of live Facebook video during the most recent police shootings in the United States, and, of course, the importance of Twitter during the Arab Spring. To understand social movements and the political context within which they are growing, we have to also understand the role of social media. Hopefully, the work of Khalid and his contemporaries can show that activism sparked by social media often succeeds, not in spite of its online origins, but because of its origins.