The Era of Exposure: How the Internet Has Awoken Social Justice

Journalist and Author
Over a year ago

Black Lives Matter is a movement that swept across the United States after the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Freddie Gray. The movement is massive enough to have its own Twitter, Tumblr, and URL. In two years it has unfortunately amassed a library o of articles on Wikipedia, with links to many pages about shootings of young black American citizens and other deaths.

Black Lives Matter is a social justice movement that campaigns for better treatment of African American citizens in the hands of the law, and an end to the systematic violence and racism that black people in America have to deal with every day. While many chant in retort ‘all lives matter,’ it is people of color, not white people, who deal with the everyday racism and heightened risks that being of color entails. Opposition to Black Lives Matter gets us nowhere, and allows close-mindedness and hate to persevere. George Zimmerman is reportedly still walking around bragging about killing Trayvon Martin.

Virginia Heffernan, author of Magic and Loss: The Pleasures of the Internet and journalist for the New York Times, believes the power and success (in awareness, at least) of the Black Lives Matter movement is due to the internet, and the ability to capture long-running injustice or even live-stream it in the digital age. Most famously and most disturbing was Philando Castile’s fiancée's quick instinct in streaming his death on Facebook Live, calling on the users of the internet as witnesses, to “serve as a massive jury of peers who give credence to the experience of other people," as Heffernan says.

The internet has created a public testimony that reaches across social divides and stirs consciousness into those who are normally untouched by the issues of minorities. Where previously our experiences of life have been so different our stories may as well be in different languages, the internet is the great translator.

We may not always like what we see or read there. It may cause us pain, disgust, and discomfort, but Heffernan argues that exposure to other people’s stories will ultimately make us better, just as being exposed to germs makes our bodies stronger. Kids raised in antiseptic environments have the weakest immune systems, so to be strong as a society we need to be confronted by truths and experiences. The internet can be a powerful vaccination against apathy and willful ignorance.

Virginia Heffernan is the author of Magic and Loss: The Pleasures of the Internet.