Forget the idea that Twitter and Facebook are bad for democracy. Bubbles can be beneficial, and help emerging movements unite against the elites
I sometimes fear that I’m some sort of a “slacktivist.” At its worst, a slacktivist is someone who only exerts the most minimal efforts toward causes they deem worthy. A slacktivist may share a meme on Facebook or sign an online petition, then after burning .01 calories in about sixty some seconds of exertion, they hear a distinct and rewarding voice in the back of their heads, congratulating them: you’ve done your part. [pat on the back]
Mostly, I tend to think of myself as existing somewhere between a “slacktivist” and a for-real, bonafide activist. (After all, I’ve taken a lot of shit for things I post online, I’ve lost friends, alienated family, and spent a fuck-load of time online.)
I’d refer to myself as an “activist” save for the fact that I simply don’t have enough face time at actual, physical actions, and the reason for not hitting the pavement at rallies and protests is that I have spent the bulk of my time in the last eight years in remote Alaskan locations, places like McCarthy whose year-round population is, I believe, officially registered at “a few dozen.”
I do as much as I can with online activism, but of course then I like totally feel like a slacktivist. I also begin to feel sort of like a modern techno-degenerate who lives in the bubble of the Internet, a forum that (more and more) tends to isolate people from other perspectives. (Algorithms narrow the material we see online to only things that would “interest” us.)
So on this count, along comes an article in the Guardian, in defense of social media bubbles, and it heartened me on the social media front:
“There’s no doubt that social media can be a cesspool. It can spread misinformation, abuse and all manner of extremist hatred. After all, social media’s defining trait is its capacity to connect like-minded people. It follows that the communities it creates vary widely by the kind of people being connected.
But this aspect of social media is also what makes it useful for today’s socialists. Bubbles can be beneficial. They can provide an emerging movement with a degree of unity, a sense of collective identity, that helps it cohere and consolidate itself in its fragile early phases.
“Of course, movements can’t stay bubbles if they want to win. They have to move from the margins to the mainstream. But social media is the soil where they can begin to take root, where they can cultivate a circle of allies and agitators who will carry their ideas out into the wider world. And this is good for democracy, because it enables genuinely popular political alternatives to emerge. It weakens the power of elites to police the limits of political possibility, and amplifies voices that could not otherwise make themselves heard….”