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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