from the quite-often-in-fact dept
It feels like pretty much every day there’s some sort of new “techlash” story, about how awful social media is, about how it’s dragging down democracy, destroying lives, and that we’d all be better off without it. We’ve been arguing for quite some time now that while there are real issues of concern about social media, most of the narrative is exaggerated to downright misleading. So it’s actually surprising, but nice, to see the NY Times (which has been among the most vocal cheerleaders of the “internet is bad” narrative) have an excellent opinion piece by Sarah Jackson outlining how Twitter, in particular, has “made us better.”
Jackson has recently co-authored a book, #HashtagActivism that details what a wonder Twitter has been for traditionally marginalized groups. It has allowed them to communicate, to organize, and to bring their messages into the mainstream.
We found that movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo, while they had pre-Twitter origins, were pushed into mainstream consciousness by networks of ordinary people sharing firsthand stories, making demands and developing shared political narratives on the site. Without Twitter, these campaigns for race and gender justice would still exist, but they wouldn’t have nearly the same momentum.
The short op-ed highlights numerous stories that likely would not have received the attention they did without Twitter. Indeed, despite all the people who mock the “internet utopians,” it certainly looks like the idea of tearing down gatekeepers and giving a voice to all were ideas that worked for many communities:
Twitter users have disrupted a media landscape where gatekeepers — in an industry that has always fallen short when it comes to race and gender diversity — were for too long solely responsible for setting the agenda of what we talked about as a country. While most Americans do not have Twitter accounts, journalists and politicians often do, and they have turned heavily in the past decade to the activists, scholars and people of color on Twitter to inform their coverage and policies. When they haven’t done so, these communities have responded resoundingly online. And America has listened.
Twitter has fundamentally altered the ways many communities interact with the media, as users feel empowered to challenge harmful framing. “I think the presence of Asian-Americans on Twitter has actually really showed journalists, editors and people in general in the newsroom how it is important to cover Asian-American issues,” one user told my colleagues and me in an interview for a report published by the Knight Foundation. “With Twitter, you can call out a publication if they mess up, or if they don’t cover certain topics. Now there’s accountability.”
Yes, the same tools can (and sometimes are) abused, but the point we keep trying to make here is that we shouldn’t throw out the tools that do so much good just because sometimes they are abused. It’s nice to see at least some acknowledging this.