Last week, as my mom and I were leaving the house to go out to dinner, we were interrupted by a knock on our front door. My initial guess was a Jehovah’s Witness, but this thought was soon dispelled as a smiling bicyclist with pamphlets adorned with pictures of bees appeared through our front window. My mom and I reluctantly rushed the man through his pitch (it was late and the restaurant we were going to was closing soon) about the declining population of bees in Maine, the negative implications of this, and how we can help save them. Though an abbreviated speech, I still walked away with this prominent thought: This bee enthusiast cared about an issue and he was actually willing to dedicate his time and effort to address—and hopefully fix it.
Though this interaction appears trivial, it was, in my mind, refreshing. We exist in a world where venting and judging, not helping, are the methods many resort to when faced with problems. These complainers feel entitled to shout their dissenting opinion, yet fail to propose a solution. This pattern of behavior is largely due to the towering presence of social media in our lives and the lives of those around us.
Social media, and the internet as a whole, enable users to be overcritical in a way that can lead to a false sense of helpfulness. When we are worried, angry, or confused about a post online, our instinct is to comment, share, or “react” immediately—overwhelmingly in a negative way. This alone leads us to believe that we have done our part in contributing to a cause. We are able to walk away from a phone or computer screen satisfied because we have shared our two cents on social media and can now move on to the next problem.
Thus, modern day activism can be boiled down to venting on Facebook or ranting on Twitter. A vast amount of energy is put into telling friends and followers opinions on social media, but this is usually as far as most thoughts get. People are all too complacent sitting behind screens, shaking their heads, and writing words of resentment that they do not justify by further action.
For instance, take the recent traumatic incident involving the boy falling into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. As expected, the internet immediately reacted to this event, not with messages of condolence or support to the zoo or the frightened mother, but rather with messages of ridicule. These angry people clearly had issues with the mother, the zoo, and the boy, yet they were not willing to ameliorate the situation by taking action. For some reason, those who took to social media to criticize thought complaining online would mitigate the situation and stop further harm more than, say, donating money to wildlife conservation or volunteering at a zoo. This raises a rather general question: Why do people think venting is more effective than doing?
Though this is one isolated example, I’ve witnessed a commonality of mindset across various social media platforms when problematic topics arise. Users find comfort in voicing their opinion online, yet these voices rarely translate to real life action. The internet can talk the talk, but it can’t always walk the walk.
This issue can be reduced to people not channeling their energy into positive, effective outlets. The web can undoubtedly be used as a catalyst for positive change, but it also serves as a stalling mechanism when users fail to recognize its limits. Our world may be dominated by the internet, but we can’t fail to realize the power of doing.
By utilizing social media as the only means to express objection, society gets caught in a hate trap. Hate fuels more hate which fuels more hate, and what’s left is a lot of unproductive, angry people. Anyone has the right to be upset about contentious issues, but do those same people have the right to voice a judgmental opinion without showing any effort toward bettering the situation? If something is worth taking the time to vent about on social media, it is almost surely worth spending time and energy on investing in real solutions.