What is real action? by Rish Basu

It’s too easy these days. Hit the “like” button and your post resurfaces on all of your friends’ timelines. Click the retweet button, and you’ve just conveyed your opinion to all your followers.

With political campaigning more prevalent on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, more and more Marksmen are beginnning to share their opinions online.

Social activism used to mean protesting on the streets in past generations, so why has our generation used the “like” and “share” buttons instead? This type of online campaigning, which seeks to solicit likes on social media as a show of support, is commonly referred to as “slacktivism” or slacker activism.

And with the presidential election just around the corner in November, more and more “slacktivist” posts rallying support for candidates seem to be appearing. But social media activism hasn’t always been portrayed in this light.

Movements such as the ALS “Ice Bucket” Challenge amassed more than $220 million in donation owing to the millions of videos posted on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Furthermore, online petitions posted on Facebook and Change.org are another example of how social media activism could potentially trigger real change in a society.     

With discussion regarding the 2016 Presidential election in full swing, the younger generations have utilized social media to voice their opinions and promote viewpoints.

According to Levi Sauerbrei, the vice president of technology at Social Media Delivered, a Carrolton-based social media-consulting firm, when used right, social media can be an extremely powerful advocacy tool.

“Those people—on social media—while not contributing in a material way, have amplified the message,” Sauerbrei said. “That’s where social media plays a big role, because now I can get my message across to people who care about it the most. They’re never going to donate $10, they’re not going to go to a protest—but they’re aware of it.”

Although social media activism is used to popularize opinions of all issues, its recent surge among our generation can be attributed to the presidential election. An article from The Washington Post revealed that 41 percent of Americans between the ages of 15 and 25 have engaged in at least one act of “participatory politics,” such as forwarding a political video or sharing a post. Despite the rapid rise of social media, the youth voter turnout has decreased since 2012.

So the question remains as to whether or not our generation is truly inflicting effective change by voicing political opinions on social media.

Senior Nick Chaiken, who heads the school’s Political Speaker Series, believes that social media activism calls for caution among citizens of our age.

“There is nothing wrong with posting political opinions on social media,” Chaiken said. “I do caution anyone against posting on political statements on social media because politics are an extremely divisive force and can lead others to come to preconceived notions about you before they actually get to know you.”

President of Political Forum Club, senior Ivan Day, believes that social media posts are susceptible to immediate change owing to external pressures.

“The biggest mistake I see is that people seem to jump to one candidate over another,” Day said. “Social media can create a hive mind in that everybody tries to have the same opinion in order to be socially acceptable with one another.”

Nevertheless, Chaiken considers social media, if used properly, to be a potential tool to engage our society.

“I think social media is a beneficial source to help us become and remain civically engaged,” Chaiken said. “However, I’d like to see Trump and Clinton use social media in a more professional way than the way we have seen this past summer when they engaged in a Twitter feud.”

Even though Chaiken and Day both believe in the importance of political discussion across campus, the school’s policy states: “members of the faculty, staff, and administration should not express their political or religious views to unduly influence students” but rather “direct students to express and defend their well-conceived positions”

History Department Chair David Fisher regards political discussion as an opportunity for meaningful and civilized debate.

“As a teacher within history and social sciences, I feel I am actually required to bring up these issues,” Fisher said. “In my economics class, for instance, you should have an opinion on the economic policies of the presidential candidates because firstly, you will be living under their administration, and you need to be able to speak in the language of economics.”

Fisher also wants to see some kind of platform in which students can actively debate on political issues.

“I wouldn’t mind a straw poll or students being picked to speak on behalf of the candidates,” Fisher said. “In the interest of promoting debate and in the interest of getting people to hear reasoned point of views, let’s have at it.”

For Fisher, the school’s policy shouldn’t prevent students from engaging in controversial discussions.

“I think the spirit of those guidelines is to prevent teachers from proselytizing,” Fisher said. “My job isn’t to turn you into a right-wing Republican or a socialist, my job is to make you aware of economics, history and that there is a debate out there.”

Even though a majority of the students at the school will not be able to vote for neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton come November, Sauerbrei cautions from using social media as a means of expressing one’s opinion.

“[People] go into social media with the idea that they’re going to control it the way they control a newspaper ad, the way they control a radio ad, the way they control the pamphlets that get sent out,” Sauerbrei said. “Whatever cause it is, understand that you are part of the larger community and you have best be a good actor in that community and acting good faith and be genuine, or Twitter is going to obliterate you.”

Similar to Chaiken, Sauerbrei warns of social media posts eliciting violent reactions and opposing sides.

But for some people, like junior Cooper Johnson, their intentions behind posting on social media are anything but harmful.

“I would say that my social media posts or political posts in general are meant to stir up emotion because I like debate,” Johnson said. “Whenever [politics] comes up, I like to talk about it. I talk about with anybody who asks. I try not to jam it too far down their throats, but it’s just something I like talking about and sometimes something I like to take to social media.”

Overall, Day believes that voicing your beliefs during this election cycle whether it is on social media or in class is healthy for a civically engaged community.

“I think it’s important that we exercise our voice and give our opinions even though some may be misguided or ill informed,” Day said. “It’s absolutely essential we share our voice. It’s what our forefathers fought for.”