The Problem With Twitter Activism

917

In recent weeks, the debate surrounding the #CancelColbert Twitter campaign spawned a nasty case of virtual gridlock. 

The conflict arose on March 27, when the official Twitter account for “The Colbert Report” tweeted the second half of a joke mocking Dan Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins. In response to the controversy of his football team’s racist name, Snyder started The Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation in order to “provide meaningful and measurable recources” for Native Americans, according to the foundation’s website. The @Colbert Report’s tweet, since deleted, said: “I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the ‘Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.’” The tweet referenced a segment from an episode of “The Colbert Report.”

After the tweet was published, Twitter activist Suey Park began a campaign titled “#CancelColbert” to condemn the show’s staff. City on a Hill Press offers two takes on the debate in an attempt to explore multiple facets of the issue.

Twitter activism like this does not foster discussion, it forms a mob mentality.

There are ways to implement social media into a progressive cause for change. One is to enhance your cause through organizing and communicating on social media, similar to how protesters in Egypt during the Arab Spring used Facebook and Twitter to come together in solidarity. Another is to build a campaign using the viral tendencies of sharing and retweeting to spread an idea to thousands of misinformed “activists,” who then believe that a simple shared post on their preferred social media website means they are a part of a cause.

The #CancelColbert campaign is an example of an idea sweeping the Internet through the means of a short and snappy sentence of less than 140 characters. The campaign lacks the informed base of support that a protest needs to be successful, mainly because Twitter users are used to reading as little information as possible.

Stephen Colbert is a professional agitator who uses satire like this to point out hypocrisy and injustice in the media and politics to promote those difficult conversations about race. So nine years of the Comedy Central program’s run should not be put on trial after Twitter bugs take five seconds to read and retweet a misleading post.

Suey Park had good intentions — she aimed to give communities that are underrepresented in the media a voice to communicate their concerns. But opening a social activist campaign by tweeting “I used to respect and enjoy your work, @ColbertReport. Fuck you” is not going to garner support from me.

Park’s goal to give Asian Americans a medium in which they could voice their anger over racist remarks grew into a shouting match. The campaign didn’t lead to progress in the realm of race relations, it became a mob looking for Colbert’s punishment. The entire point of “The Colbert Report” is to provide food for thought, even if it may be hard to swallow.

Although Suey sat down with the New Yorker to go into deeper detail about her tweets, the majority of the Twitter base that pushed the tweet to trending didn’t look into that. The consensus of followers had already made their minds up — Stephen Colbert is a racist and should be taken off the airwaves. The Twitter activists did not take into account that Colbert wasn’t behind the tweet, or that the joke was taken out of context.

Twitter and Facebook activism are shaky mediums through which to start movements. They have the short term in mind, with no consideration for long-term goals that would help with discussions of issues like racism and first Amendment rights. Demanding cancelation of free speech is too much for a Twitter hashtag.

A good example of how using the convenience and efficiency of social media to aid a cause would be one of international importance — Egypt. The protesters in the Arab Spring used various websites to overthrow a dictator, and they did that by leaving their computers.

Protesters said they “used Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate and Youtube to show the world.” While Park and her band of hashtivists are trying to silence “The Colbert Report” in a fit of shallow tweets, these protesters were trying to promote a larger, on-the-ground movement.

The Arab Spring wasn’t founded online, it was aided by the transparency of the Internet. Twitter should be used to communicate, not to inform and discuss sensitive ideas. Forums lacking long-form means of conversation will only take steps away from reaching mutual understandings.

Suey Park had one chance to make an impression. Instead of using it to articulate her ideas in a manner that wouldn’t restrict her, she chose to build a bandwagon and fill the cart with anyone willing to listen.

Read the opposing stance here.