Social Justice on Social Media






Hey everyone,

Before I even say anything, I know this post might rub some of you guys up the wrong way, especially if you are involved in one of the communities I want to talk about. I know because whenever I used to come across a post like this they would irritate me too.

When I first started to become involved in online activism, I, like a lot of people, didn't know where to start. It seemed to me that there were thousands of opinions and conversations going on, but I didn't know exactly where mine slotted into all that. So afraid of offending anyone or saying the wrong thing, I was ironically drawn to the one place I thought everyone agreed with each other, but not yet to my knowledge, to the most offended people on the entire internet. It was the 'social justice' communities on sites like Tumblr and Instagram.


The liberal ideas and left leaning ideologies of these groups seemed to fit into a developing worldview, and I was attracted by discussions around LGBT issues and Feminism. However, I've come to realise over the last few months (which is far longer than it should have taken) how toxic some of these environments have become.


One of my main issues is that the online social justice community seems to thrive off creating so-called 'safe spaces' for people. On the surface, the definition of a safe space is simply an area where people can share experiences and ideas without fear of harassment or violence from those who disagree with them. Of course, I believe that people should be able to share their views without being threatened, that's just basic free speech. However, many of these 'safe spaces' seem to have confused not being harassed for an opinion with not being allowed to disagree with anyone at all. I specifically disagree with the over excessive and wrong usage of 'safe spaces' and 'trigger warnings' because it undermines those who genuinely need to be protected from harassment and those who genuinely need trigger warnings because they suffer from PTSD. 


On my end, I am seeing safe spaces used to mask the fact that in these online groups there seems to be one 'acceptable' opinion and everything else will get you blocked or reported for 'hate speech'. Again, this stifles debate and only leads to a 'boy who cried wolf' situation in which when someone who is genuinely a bigot or spouting hate speech comes along, no one will believe you. Many of these kind of accounts will have 'safe space' in their bio, followed by something along the lines of 'disrespectful comments/users will be deleted and blocked'. I will once again say that I completely agree that genuine sexism, racism, homophobia, or transphobia should absolutely be shut down, just read some of my other posts if you don't believe me. But I truly believe that the majority of these kind of accounts are doing NOTHING to combat any of these issues. The extremely strict ideas of what the 'acceptable opinion' is just alienate everyone with a different idea, and when you won't even debate someone who doesn't have the 'accepted opinion', or even try to understand their point of view, how do you expect to change anyone's mind?


It has gotten to the point that even when people have politely stated an opposing argument, usually using facts to back it up, or even just asked a question in some 'safe spaces', they have been insulted, kicked out of the group, or in some extreme cases been expelled from their schools or fired from their jobs.


The idea of safe spaces has become so ingrained, not just online but in real life too (especially universities), that in November last year, City University London (renowned for its journalism school, ironically) actually banned three newspapers (The Sun, Daily Mail, and The Express) from its campus all together in order to 'protect' students from the three notoriously outspoken publications' views on current affairs. Now, I will be the first to say that I most definitely disagree with the majority of what these newspapers have to say, however that is no reason to have them banned. It is to my understanding that the point of university is to learn, and to enrich your mind academically, is it not? How on earth can we expect young people to grow up into educated, opinionated, and strong individuals when they are being openly banned from accessing certain news outlets. This not only damages the students who, rightly or wrongly, agree with the rhetoric of these papers, but those who disagree too. How are you supposed to fight against something you can't see? Or debate someone when you don't understand their argument?


I worry especially for my generation growing up on the internet in this toxic environment. I worry because when you are constantly and only exposed to people with the same opinions as yourself you will become complacent; the need to use facts and evidence to back up your side becomes irrelevant when everyone agrees with you already. If this kind of culture continues we will raise a generation that cannot defend their arguments, rendering the discussions that spark the ideas that keep us moving forward as a race pointless.


We have already been dubbed 'generation snowflake' by some people due to the fact current social justice trends seek to avoid dissenting opinions or emotionally charged topics. I say no. I say that I truly believe in the ability of our generation to change the world. I say that our generation has the power to be the strongest generation ever to exist. This was overwhelming shown yesterday when a staggering 2.9million people showed up to march all over the US. The largest 1-day protest ever to take place, and a protest that would not have happened without the power of the internet. And although I no doubt know that some of the people I am getting at in this post were probably there marching, it does show a true testament to the large-scale political impact that social media can have. 


As a generation we need to use our greatest tool - the internet, not to demonise due to dissenting ideas, but to carve the way for constructive debate and dialogue.


Of course, we should protect those who need to be protected, and listen to those whose voices are being silenced. However, it might just do people some good to step out of their comfort zone and listen to something new once in a while. Try to understand why some people disagree with feminism, or why they don't think gay people should have the right to get married. Try to understand why your dad thinks it's best to cut NHS funding, or why your cousin voted for Donald Trump. Only once people can begin to understand opinions they don't like, can they begin to debate, civilly and with facts, and change others' minds. Only then can we truly be on the right path to creating a better world.


Sarah xx