I was wrong about social media activism.
I used to think protests and such were the “real thing” and that social media was maybe emotionally satisfying but ultimately ineffective. I now realize that I was simply incorrect.
Ahmaud Arbery changed my mind. Here is a fact. Nothing would have happened to his murderers were it not for sustained pressure on social media. The actual shooter never would have been arrested, let alone the guy who tried to box him in with his car.
And then the examples kept coming. “Central Park Karen” lost her job and even her dog. Some other guy peddling in false accusations at least lost his office. Amazingly, George Floyd’s killer was arrested, which I never thought would happen.
The truth is that without widely shared video tape evidence, nothing at all would have happened to any of these people. Their evil would have been ignored and forgotten.
And the other fact is that false accusations played a primary role in every one of these events, two of which escalated to murder. And realistically, to stop false accusations against black men, people’s lives need to be destroyed. The accusers need to lose their jobs, their livelihoods, their homes, their freedoms, their marriages and yes, even their dogs.
When this happens, not once or twice, not a dozen or two dozen times, but so many times that people start to see it as normal, then things will change. The normalcy is what matters. Once or twice isn’t enough.
I also did not realize how effectively social media activism can disrupt the family systems inside police forces and workplaces. It is not an accident that Derek Chauvin and Tou Thao, two officers who already had a history of excessive force violations, were working together when they murdered George Floyd. Of course they were. That’s how it always happens. People in any organization organize themselves informally and create little families where they support each other and encourage each other, for better or for worse.
Without these family structures even the most hateful person has very little ability to cause harm. And within them, hate is not necessary. Yes, power certainly matters. But social ties matter too, as well as all the little rituals people participate in that strengthen and deepen their beliefs and habits.
Social media is better at disrupting these sick families than I had realized. The use of images conveys more information about people’s social ties than can be easily stated in words. And the presence of a “watcher” often changes people’s behavior.
This is to say nothing of the fact that, even before Derek Chauvin was arrested, activists using social media as one of their primary methods had at least already succeeded in getting all four participants in George Floyd’s death fired. If nothing else, that’s one fewer sick family creating hell.
Social media activism hasn’t been around for very long but it has already produced results. I’m not so sure I can say the same about some of the other methods I used to believe in.