Do clicks matter, or are you wasting your time on social media?
If you’re around my age (18) then you’ve probably heard someone older than you criticize our generation’s addiction to social media, obsession over online trends, refusal to put our phones down, and tell us to do something actually productive. Maybe, like me, you’ve had teachers who routinely denounce the notion that people can actually do things worthwhile by liking posts, retweeting, sharing, and re-posting. Maybe you are one of those people who don’t see the point behind our generation’s obsession with our online presence. Are they right, or do clicks matter?
For a while, upon hearing someone say these things I would begrudgingly stay quiet because, on the surface, it sounds like a fair judgment. After all, likes and retweets aren’t physical, they don’t actually correlate to any specific, direct action, and there is a fair criticism of spending hours upon hours each day scrolling through different apps. However, what a lot of those critics don’t have, and something I do, is a grasp of the popular culture of the youth and an understanding of the apps we use to express ourselves. My teachers who make fun of kids who think they can do something by sharing online don’t even have the apps they’re so critical of, and recently, this so-called clicktivism, i.e. that clicks matter, has really begun to prove itself.
Can social media bring about social justice?
The first case where I really noticed how much a difference online communities can make is Ahmed Aubrey’s. By now everyone knows the story. Aubrey was an innocent man out for an afternoon jog and was shot dead by a group of civilians under the false assumption that he was a robbery suspect. The story came to light in late May, but, shockingly, the incident happened in February. The only reason it was given any attention by the media and judicial system was because it went viral on twitter. As of right now, the perpetrators are in prison on felony murder charges, and all because thousands and thousands of people retweeted the original post.
After noticing it the first time, I started seeing the same thing happen again and again. Twitter is unforgiving and hashtags like #justiceforbreannataylor and #blacklivesmatter were trending for days on end and continue to bring necessary attention to a wide range of issues. Already, there have been petitions circulated on Twitter and other apps that got millions of signatures and actually created legal reform.
Looking back, the #metoo movement, that gave thousands of women the safe space to come forward about their sexual assault experiences, was also the direct result of retweets, shares, and likes.
Twitter isn’t the only place where online communities come together. TikTok, the recent social media giant, is the site of many similar occurrences. Most recently, TikTok users quite literally pranked the president of the United States by reserving tickets for his rally in Tulsa with no intention of going. Before the rally, President Trump was boasting of a record-high number of attendees on a number of platforms, with supposedly a million tickets reserved; the rally only sported a crowd of 15,000 people. Whatever your opinions on Trump, there’s no denying how impressive it was that such a large crowd of like-minded people on TikTok were able to insert themselves and their opinions into the political world and make themselves be heard. Like Twitter, TikTok is the frequent site of other political content that has pushed people to sign petitions, spread awareness, and fight for what they believe in.
It has also been increasingly common for individuals sharing their stories of abuse or misfortunes on TikTok to see the good side of clicktivism. Mia Khalifa, the infamous ex-porn star, recently joined the app and shared her story of being manipulated into a less than ideal porn contract at one of the lowest points of her life and making a mere $12,000 profit from the 800+ million views on her videos. The response from the TikTok community was one of support, understanding, and recognition that created awareness about the ethical issues of big porn companies and gave Khalifa a break from the ostracization and ill-directed hate that has been so prevalent in her life.
Each day I scroll through TikTok I see similar stories. I’ve seen thousands of supportive comments on posts about struggles with cancer, issues with significant others, health journeys, insecurities, financial issues, political problems, educational questions, and more. The response to these comments from the original posters is always one of gratitude that shows clicks matter.
Is social media just mindless entertainment?
All that said, I won’t deny that there are still fair criticisms of my generation’s online addiction. The thing with TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube are that their main purpose is to entertain. Each of those platforms have a never-ending stream of mindless and unimportant posts and videos which are only there to give someone a laugh or to evade boredom, and spending hours of your day enveloped in those things is admittedly problematic. Even among the clicktivism these sites do have, there are meaningless and performative attempts at activism that don’t accomplish anything other than a false sense of involvement and achievement (the posting of black squares on Instagram as one example). It’s also hard to ignore how mean large groups of people online can be and the severity of the hate they can deliver.
Despite all that and the long screen time it creates, I still maintain that there is and can be true value in spending time online, being involved in the current trends, and staying up to date on what’s being circulated. On the surface, scrolling through TikTok or Twitter doesn’t sound like anything important, but while there you might help make someone’s day, say the thing someone really needed to hear, stay informed, be part of a movement, or learn something new and, to me, those sound pretty productive; and that’s why clicks matter.
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This is so well written, thought provoking, relevant and has made me already pause. I’ve told my 16 yo son that I think he’s got an addiction to his social media and he agrees-but what he’s doing is similar to what you’re talking about-spreading awareness to others (including me), learning about what’s happening. So maybe that’s not a bad addiction, then. I’ve been humbled. Thank you for writing this post and as a teen I’m super impressed with your writing and ability to tell a story so well!
Thanks so much for your comment, I’m glad I could help! Like I mentioned, there’s definitely a point where spending too much time online becomes counterintuitive and if it reaches that point then you have every right to want things to change, but in the likely case it hasn’t (especially since things are so different with corona), I like to think that your son would appreciate you recognizing the value of being online. As teenagers in this age, a large part of our lives and identity comes from our interactions, presence, and habits online and having that part of ourselves invalidated by our parents doesn’t sit well. Thanks again! Maya
You bring to light the positives of social media. Often this is overlooked by both the pro and anti social media camps. Does there need to be more regulation or censorship? If so, who would do this. Could the platforms be then used to push a particular boas or agenda (which hours already). Would that be counterintuitive to the freedom of speech and dissemination of information that the platforms offer society?
Thanks for the comment! I honestly don’t think our platforms are in any need of more censorship and regulation. As it is right now, each platform is in charge of its own regulation according to its goals and audience. Youtube advertises itself as a family-friendly platform and features a very young audience, therefore, it has community guidelines to match; videos that breach these guidelines are demonetized and don’t make money. TikTok is very similar. Twitter, on the other hand, is marketed specifically to adults and meant as a place where anyone can share their ideas. It, therefore, does not have the same family-friendly guidelines that Youtube and TikTok have and features very different content. For all platforms, content is taken down if the admin feels that it seriously calls for violence or simply too problematic. With the regulation already in place, the issue of platforms pushing an agenda has already come up; to put in any more would only create more issues. Maya
Hi Maya, Thank you for elaborating on this topic. I do like that youtube has some guidelines and appears to be monitored. Tiktok though? There was some awful publicity surrounding stunts young people were doing on TikTok. Is regulation of this type of video too problematic? Btw, I do not believe in heavy censorship and prefer self-directed censorship albeit with the protection of vulnerable age groups.
Yes, a lot of social media is a waste of time. But it sure helped organized the recent Black Lives Matter protests!
Exactly! If it wasn’t for social media I, and I’m sure many others, wouldn’t be half as involved or informed on the matter. Maya
As 70 7ear old, I love having a thoughtful post on social media/social movements from someone who is my grandchildren’s age — thanks.
Overall a very well thought out and articulated article. 🙂 Let me briefly and politely play devil’s advocate though.
Social media can also be a fountain of misinformation and manipulation. Your own post highlights one example early on. Ahmed Aubrey was a known criminal AND on video tape (on YouTube, or at least was) trespassing. The man who shot him was also a retired sheriff who had arrested Aubrey before. Aubrey also kept heading towards them when he saw they were armed and then tried to take away the shotgun which led to him getting shot, possibly accidentally. I have MANY questions about the actions of BOTH sides in the situation. I don’t think anyone was fully innocent there however, and it certainly was NOT a case of some racist just randomly shooting a jogger like social media portrays it.
“The only reason they’re in jail is thousands and thousands of social media people” is kind of a lynch mob isn’t it? Especially if they’re operating on incomplete and inaccurate information.
Other times, it has done good though. There was ZERO excuse for what happened to George Floyd or Breanna Taylor. VERY clear cut there, and I come from a police family.
Social media can also give a false impression of doing something meaningful. A perfect example was the women taken from the African village a few years back. Everybody tweeted a hashtag about freeing them and celebrated when they were released. Hashtags are meaningless to terrorists. The girls were released due to a combination of pretending to go along with their ideology AND the threat of military action to rescue them.
Lastly, social media can be a source of almost fanatical herd mentality and bullying. There are stories everywhere about it. I’ve experienced it myself, and you mentioned it in your article also.
My overall point is that social media is a tool; one that can be used for both good and evil. Much of that depends on users keeping informed outside of social media. Likewise, it can also be a substitute for truly living life as well.
Don’t let my counterpoints discourage you however. It’s a great article with many valid points about the good side of social media. You clearly inherited your mom’s intelligence and I think you have a bright future as a writer if you choose that path. 🙂
Thanks for your comment!
I feel pretty strongly about this, so I’m sorry if I come across in this response slightly aggressive and unforgiving, but I’m afraid I’ll have to shoot back about the Aubrey situation. I don’t think Aubrey’s past criminal record or even possible involvement in trespassing should take away from the injustice of the situation. The shooters were acting on a suspicion of robbery and trespassing; they had no right (in my opinion) to use his criminal record as justification for their pursuit or his shooting and as a past Sherrif, the shooter should know that the goal of a citizens (or any) arrest is to bring the suspect to the police alive so a proper investigation can be done.
I also have to disagree with your criticism of the ‘lynch mob’ operating on ‘incomplete and accurate information.’ While the full details of those involved may not have been considered by everyone, I don’t think you can call an unedited video of the moments of and leading up to Aubrey’s death inaccurate information. No matter how you look at it, Aubrey should not be dead and his case should not have been swept under the rug for so long. People online called for an investigation and justice and I refuse to say that there’s anything wrong with that. Even if the shooting was nothing more than a tragic accident, a life was still lost and proper legal process should take place. Having said that I definitely agree that the internet can sometimes become a dangerous manipulative mob, but I really don’t think that’s what happened here.
Otherwise, I completely agree that social media can be as evil as it can be good. ‘Cancel culture’ is a term people my age use to describe the side of the internet that’s prone to ostracizing people, boycotting their products, and effectively ‘cancelling’ them based on snap judgements of past mistakes or information revealed by others. Although the idea of holding people accountable for their mistakes has good intentions, it has often proved to be over the top and unfairly unforgiving. Maya
Thanks again for the comment, and although I did disagree with a few things you said I appreciate how nicely you approached it!
Your daughters are very talented young ladies! I love having my kids write guest blogs as well. It is so important to hear the thoughts from a different generations point of view. Plus, we can show how proud we are of them! Great job, Maya!