John Stonestreet and Maria Baer on Tweeting Something Isn’t the Same as Doing Something

The trademark logo of Twitter that was displayed on a screen at the New York Stock Exchange. | REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID

Last week, a pair of activists launched a social media campaign that quickly went from advocacy to unintentional irony. To show solidarity with African American victims of police brutality, the women encouraged Instagrammers, especially major corporations, to post a black square in lieu of a picture, in order to leave space on the platform for people of color.

As well-intentioned as Blackout Tuesday was, with people across the country continuing to express outrage over the police killing of George Floyd, it started to unravel nearly as fast as it caught on. Upon further reflection, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to ask people to post in order to show how they weren’t going to post.

Nor was it practical. So many individual and company Instagrammers posted black squares, that entire portions of the site went essentially blank. If the intent was, as described, to amplify black voices, a sea of black squares drowned them out instead.

Blackout Tuesday is the latest example of what’s called “hashtag activism,” or internet advocacy. Now that social media operates within our culture like a public square, it only makes sense that people would take to their keyboards when they want social change. Unfortunately, if that’s where our activism begins and ends, as it far too often is, we’re guilty of a category mistake. We’re treating Twitter (say that fast five times) as if it’s the real world. It’s not.

In fact, Twitter, like the rest of social media, is actually an infinitesimally small slice of the real world. As economist Arthur Brooks pointed out last year, only 22% of American adults are on Twitter at all, only 7% are active, and 80% of all tweets come from only 10 percent of them. (And about half of those come from Ed Stetzer.)

In no way am I suggesting that advocating online is always meaningless or silly. It’s not wrong in and of itself, but it is wrong by itself. It is no substitute for actual, embodied kingdom-building engagement. Just look at the stats. The most-followed person on Twitter only reaches two out of 10 of their neighbors, and that’s only if they are on Twitter too. And even then, you’re just talking in a one-directional, one-sentence-at-a-time way.

Blackout Tuesday reminded me of a similar phenomenon that followed 9/11, something Neil Postman warned of in his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death. Of course, social media wasn’t around in 2001 but, as Americans everywhere struggled to make sense of what had happened, we started conflating “staying informed” with “doing something.”

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SOURCE: Christian Post, John Stonestreet and Maria Baer