It’s overwhelming to have the entire broken world at your fingertips.
That’s what flows from Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. A constant stream of grievances and injustices cascade before our eyes, one after another, intermingled with funny, tangential one-liners and more pleasing accounts of happier news. Sometimes we see a cute puppy!
Each account of bad news is reported or curated by people we know or care about. They are friends or people we follow. We take seriously what they share. Consequently, social media offer a rapid-fire series of reactive and emphatic opinions that do not necessarily reflect reality and only stir up more anger. To paraphrase James, “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the hashtag is a fire” (3:5–6, ESV).
That said, we join causes on the Internet to become part of something bigger than ourselves. We gain a greater feeling of purpose and meaning, if only for a day or a week. When the cause concerns blatant injustice, we feel compelled to show which side we’re on, and sometimes, like vigilante superheroes, we demand that “something be done,” even if that means just posting more tweets. Unfortunately, for many, such passions are short-lived, before they are on to the next thing.
It’s easy to condemn the superficiality of Twitter activism. But just as complaints against online “slacktivism” reached their peak, the response to Ferguson demonstrated that status updates, online videos, and passionate pleas in the form of hashtags can change circumstances and discourse for the better. #Ferguson, #ICantBreathe, and a too-long list of the names of the deceased converted to hashtags helped to prompt those in power to take ...