Sometimes, usually right after I post something political on Facebook, people tell me (on fb and IRL) that they don’t talk about politics online. Usually this is followed by either explaining that they are non-confrontational or by telling me that it’s exhausting, people just want to argue for fun, people don’t change, it’s pointless, etc.. Sometimes I feel like they forget that I've already heard this perspective. They talk to me as if I have never experienced the feelings they are describing. These moments when people impart their internet wisdom onto me, oddly enough, add to the difficulty by discouraging my passion, and in many ways snuff out a fire that would otherwise be better off stoked. All puns intended.
Deny it as we may, Facebook bleeds into the real world. If you don’t believe me, just ask writer Lindy West, who wrote about an encounter with her worst internet troll for Jezebel and retold her story on This American Life.
In West's story, if you can imagine it, her worst internet troll actually apologized and admitted that his ugliness online came from a place of self-hate. Now, I see that this is an idealistic — trust me. This isn’t to say that anyone’s cultural commentary or political post seeks to change the worst of the internet trolls, or that West’s story is the rule. But this exception gives me hope. I’ve seen the world around me change so much over the last 5 years alone because ideas are more accessible as a result of social media. At the risk of sounding like a hipster feminist, when I was in college sitting in Women’s Studies classes I remember feeling so alone in my views. That feeling is so far in the past that I hardly remember what life was like before the F word took flight. And that's just one example of a positive shift that owes it’s existence to social media.
The fact is, social media is real life, and it does matter. You are all alive behind those computer screens and on the other side of your smartphones. You are all actively participating in the real world around you everyday. A conversation that you have over a cup of coffee at your dining room table is just as real and affecting as a conversation you have on Facebook. Perhaps less tangible, but no less a part of your reality. I urge others to cease their participation in perpetuating the myth that we are not impacted by our social media presence. This myth is dangerous territory — not only does it invalidate our very real feelings, when we do have them in a virtual space, it also allows us to reject responsibility for our actions when we log on.
For years I echoed the same denials, “people just want to argue, it’s not even the real world, no one changes because of relentless political Facebook posts, etc.” The list of counter-arguments is quite long. But long as this list may be, it is still paper-thin in comparison to the proven benefits of social media. Tell the myth to the grassroots movements that gained much of their ground on social media. Tell it to Black Lives Matter, or to the DREAMers. Tell it to the QPOCs that find one another online in solidarity and safety. Go ahead, tell them their forged alliances and real actions are pointless because people never change… It’s a little harder to make that argument now, isn’t it?
Many think engaging online is a sport for some of us. They simply have us mistaken for trolls, like in the This American Life story above. You see, expending your emotional energies online to try to encourage a more just world isn’t just a silly sport. If only it were as entertaining as y’all think. It’s not. For those of us that put our political selves out there, please respect that we are doing our best to create the positive environments that we desire. Particularly, it's how this brown girl protects herself. Not that it’s my responsibility to explain to my critics my approach to life. Let me do me, you do you. I don’t want toxic people in my life, not even passively while I avoid volatile conversations with them and tiptoe around their hate on Facebook. What kind of life is that? Doesn’t sound very real to me.