Three Big Problems With Facebook Activism
“Slacktivism” online is exactly as deep as the paper-thin knowledge and commitment that fuels it.
BY REBECCA TEICH (guest blogger)
Many of us have fallen victim to it: changing our profile picture to those white equals signs atop a red background because someone said that it meant you support marriage equality, sharing the now-infamous #Kony2012 video that no one ever watched in full, or reposting the Huffington Post article only because the title was too witty and relevant not to.
From warring perspectives on the conflict in Gaza to the now strangely dated hashtag #bringbackourgirls, the viral social issue of the hour floods Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook with content that looks, on the outside, like deeply felt social activism. But for all the pathos running rampant over news feeds and blogging sites, there is little depth to speak of, and virtually no change afoot in the real world. “Slacktivism” online is exactly as deep as the paper-thin knowledge and commitment that fuels it.
Social Gain vs. Social Change
Social media might be said to revolutionize political activism, connecting us to like-minded peers in previously inconceivable ways. The hive is easier to stir than ever before. But these technologies have a much darker side. Facebook activism amplifies harmful underpinnings of capitalism. It drastically alters how we conceive of ourselves. And ironically, Facebook does harm to the social causes offline that we champion online. Why? Social media platforms transform social issues into cultural capital: issues become labels of political alignment and lend an appearance of social awareness attached to a digitally curated self. They become a means to the end of social gain, rather than of social change.
Through social media, we engage in personal branding. We cultivate a name and image that we can manipulate for social gain: “likes,” retweets, comments, and shares—rather than real change on the ground—become our primary goal. We choose how we desire to be seen by others and then manipulate that artificial “self” in accord with our known, or desired, audience.
No self-presentation through social media can be fully genuine. The prospect of social rewards always taints that decision-making process. Individuals cultivate their amplified selves on such platforms by sharing a given set of signifiers to attach to their “profile” through the sharing of news articles, the act of ‘liking’ pages, or re-posting other people’s writings. There is a hyper-awareness of our image in the eyes of others; whether consciously or not, our profiles become a self-promoting narrative.
The Perils of "Slacktivism"
And the end-goal of this online “activism” is typically limited to raising awareness. As valuable as it is to widen people’s understanding of the world, no tangible change flows from awareness alone. In addition, many online activist campaigns reveal their true colors when they raise awareness of convenient untruths.
Last year we saw massive numbers of our Facebook friends change their profile pictures to a red equals sign to support marriage equality, which inadvertently served as mass-advertising for the organization that uses the emblem as its logo (with a few color changes from time to time). What these Facebook users might not care to know is that the Human Rights Committee (HRC), the organization behind the logo, has been subject to devastating criticism from the LGBTQ+ community. The HRC, Derrick Clifton writes, represents a “well-off, able-bodied, gender conforming, non-immigrant and white” audience that ignores problems of racial injustice in the LGBTQ+ community and has “a long history of throwing trans people under the bus.” Few users adopting the logo as their own profile picture had any idea they were promoting not only a political position but also a specific (an deeply flawed) organization.
Most people jumping at the chance to use the hashtag #bringbackourgirls had little to no knowledge of the history and politics of the country in which they obliquely advocated foreign intervention. And they no clue that many Nigerians not residing in America are opposed to US intervention due to a history of the negative effects of US foreign aid and meddling there.
These examples of “slacktivist” rebellion from current events are prevalent within social media, especially (but not exclusively) among the liberal class who claim to advocate for social justice. The irony lies in the fact that when the labels of “rebel” enters popular culture and “trendiness,” it becomes conformity. The idea of rebellion becomes another commodified modifier to one’s online self. “Rebellion” acts as a signifier to denote a sense of global awareness and a self-directed, educated position within the subject matter. Despite the appearance of rebellion in this public display of a seemingly more radical opinion, the individual is doing just the opposite. We are always keenly aware of our audience; often that audience is one of similar opinion, as that audience is comprised of “friends” or “followers.”
Individuals craft their public selves and accompanying opinions to obtain social reward from a positive response from their followship. Social issues and critique become buzzwords or clickbait. They function as modifiers for that online public self, and lose their rebellious force. Those issues become objects used to accumulate cultural capital in exchange for social reward. In this process it becomes apparent that both the public self and the social issues become commodified to achieve an end reward that’s external to the function and existence of the commodity.
This isn’t to say that all that happens on these platforms is negative. With this new form of media and communication, there are many liberating and redeeming qualities that arise from these platforms, including the newfound ability to bridge conversational gaps and the opportunity for a larger number of people to engage in a conversation and disseminate knowledge and opinions relatively freely. Social media is fast, easy, cheap and, in one sense, democratic.
But there is the corrupting matter of money. Facebook shareholders’ bottom line is not how much social change the site inspires. No, social media sites are profit-maximizing corporations, as all those ads and “sponsored” content in our newsfeeds remind us. Social media sites, and even some social movements, should not be misunderstood as fully public. There is censorship involved, either by internal community policing or external policing from the platform to ensure a profit, making sure that voices are in line with an ideology that benefits themselves. In addition, it requires a critical eye both in terms of what we consume and what we put out because anything displayed on social media platforms is going to be mass-consumed. We must be aware of the way we, consciously or subconsciously, manipulate how we are portrayed such that it does not serve to hinder and devalue issues that require selflessness.
We must also foster awareness for the way these platforms we engage with have profit-based agendas of their own. A blind progression into social media activism is extremely harmful. This new medium is greatly influenced by hegemonic structures that surround it and ought to be the target of critique rather than the foundation of dissemination.
This is not a call to block off social media as an outlet for exchange. Instead, this newfound presence of hijacking the pressing issues of our time for our own personal gain requires of us to reevaluate how we get involved and participate in this new form of interaction. It’s a call to think more critically about the way information is exchanged and portrayed and to redirect activism in a direction that remains truer to its cause.
Rebecca Teich is a recent graduate of Bard High School Early College where she received both an Associate of Arts degree from Bard College and a New York High School Regents Diploma. She will be attending Columbia University in the fall where she intends to pursue studies in English and Philosophy.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com
Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling has an important favor to ask of the American people.
- Michael Dowling is president and CEO of Northwell Health, the largest health care system in New York state. In this PSA, speaking as someone whose company has seen more COVID-19 patients than any other in the country, Dowling implores Americans to wear masks—not only for their own health, but for the health of those around them.
- The CDC reports that there have been close to 7.9 million cases of coronavirus reported in the United States since January. Around 216,000 people have died from the virus so far with hundreds more added to the tally every day. Several labs around the world are working on solutions, but there is currently no vaccine for COVID-19.
- The most basic thing that everyone can do to help slow the spread is to practice social distancing, wash your hands, and to wear a mask. The CDC recommends that everyone ages two and up wear a mask that is two or more layers of material and that covers the nose, mouth, and chin. Gaiters and face shields have been shown to be less effective at blocking droplets. Homemade face coverings are acceptable, but wearers should make sure they are constructed out of the proper materials and that they are washed between uses. Wearing a mask is the most important thing you can do to save lives in your community.
Two massive clouds of dust in orbit around the Earth have been discussed for years and finally proven to exist.
- Hungarian astronomers have proven the existence of two "pseudo-satellites" in orbit around the earth.
- These dust clouds were first discovered in the sixties, but are so difficult to spot that scientists have debated their existence since then.
- The findings may be used to decide where to put satellites in the future and will have to be considered when interplanetary space missions are undertaken.
What are they?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDA0NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTM1ODc0Mn0.NH33LuauIo__sUBi4tvhwxDcsvhflDFD-Nhx9FjlSNk/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=148%2C0%2C149%2C0&height=700" id="cec96" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="acb78abe2ab46a17e419ad30906751d6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Artist's impression of the Kordylewski cloud in the night sky (with its brightness greatly enhanced) at the time of the observations.
G. Horváth<p>The<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kordylewski_cloud" target="_blank"> Kordylewski clouds</a> are two dust clouds first observed by Polish astronomer Kazimierz Kordylewski in 1961. They are situated at two of the <a href="https://www.space.com/30302-lagrange-points.html" target="_blank">Lagrange points</a> in Earth's orbit. These points are locations where the gravity of two objects, such as the Earth and the Moon or a planet and the Sun, equals the centripetal required to orbit the objects while staying in the same relative position. There are five of these spots between the Earth and Moon. The clouds rest at what are called points four and five, forming a triangle with the clouds and the Earth at the three corners.</p><p>The clouds are enormous, taking up the same space in the night sky as twenty lunar discs; covering an area of 45,000 miles. They are roughly 250,000 miles away, about the same distance from us as the Moon. They are entirely comprised of specks of dust which reflect the light of the sun so faintly most astronomers that looked for them were unable to see them at all. </p><p>The clouds themselves are probably ancient, but the model that the scientists created to learn about them suggests that the individual dust particles that comprise them can be blown away by solar wind and replaced by the dust from other cosmic sources like comet tails. This means that the clouds hardly move but are <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2018/11/news-earth-moon-dust-clouds-satellites-planets-space/" target="_blank">eternally changing</a>. </p>
How did they discover this?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDAzNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1Nzc4MjQ4MX0.7uU9OqmQcWw5Ll1UXAav0PCu4nTg-GdJdAWADHanC7c/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C180%2C0%2C181&height=700" id="952fb" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a778280a20f1c54cd2c14c8313224be2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
"In this picture the central region of the Kordylewski dust cloud is visible (bright red pixels). The straight tilted lines are traces of satellites."
J. Slíz-Balogh<p>In their study published in the <a href="https://academic.oup.com/mnras" target="_blank">Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society</a>, Hungarian astronomers Judit Slíz-Balogh, András Barta, and Gábor Horváth described how they were able to find the dust clouds using polarized lenses.</p><p>Since the clouds were expected to polarize the light that bounces off of them, by configuring the telescopes to look for this kind of light the clouds were much easier to spot. What the scientists observed, polarized light in patterns that extended outside the view of the telescope lens, was in line with the predictions of their mathematical model and ruled out other possible sources. </p>
Why are we just learning this now?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xODgyMDAzOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MjUyNDMyMH0.Zl8GmQ_rJHiL4b7hN0r_YBmgb6_ZqIRvqOVuko2ubpw/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C141%2C0%2C185&height=700" id="87afe" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dd4c0b5088e601d7279cc5eb226f8b7b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
"Mosaic pattern of the angle of polarization around the L5 point (white dot) of the Earth-Moon system. The five rectangular windows correspond to the imaging telescope with which the patterns of the Kordylewski cloud were measured."
J. Slíz-Balogh<p>The objects, being dust clouds, are very faint and hard to see. While Kordylewski observed them in 1961, other astronomers have looked there and given mixed reports over the following decades. This discouraged many astronomers from joining the search, as study co-author Judit Slíz-Balogh <a href="https://ras.ac.uk/news-and-press/research-highlights/earths-dust-cloud-satellites-confirmed" target="_blank">explained</a>, <em>"The Kordylewski clouds are two of the toughest objects to find, and though they are as close to Earth as the Moon are largely overlooked by researchers in astronomy. It is intriguing to confirm that our planet has dusty pseudo-satellites in orbit alongside our lunar neighbor."</em></p>
Will this have any impact on space travel?<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c3d797fff5430c64afcb5a49bddc3616"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Ou8N3v9SFPE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Lagrange points have been put forward as excellent locations for a space station or satellites like the <a href="https://jwst.nasa.gov/about.html" target="_blank">James Webb Telescope</a> to be put into orbit, as they would require little fuel to stay in place. Knowing about a massive dust cloud that could damage sensitive equipment already being there could save money and lives in the future. While we only know about the clouds at Lagrange points four and five right now, the study's authors suggest there could be more at the other points.</p><p>While the discovery of a couple of dust clouds might not seem all that impressive, it is the result of a half-century of astronomical and mathematical work and reminds us that wonders are still hidden in our cosmic backyard. While you might never need to worry about these clouds again, there is nothing wrong with looking at the sky with wonder at the strange and fantastic things we can discover. </p>
New cancer-scanning technology reveals a previously unknown detail of human anatomy.
- Scientists using new scanning technology and hunting for prostate tumors get a surprise.
- Behind the nasopharynx is a set of salivary glands that no one knew about.
- Finding the glands may allow for more complication-free radiation therapies.
PSMA PET/CT technology<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="676e611b970c9b516cace0870447b325"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/RHAyoQF09X4?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>PSMA PET/CT is a new combination of <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/pet-scan/about/pac-20385078" target="_blank">PET scans</a> and <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/ct-scan/about/pac-20393675" target="_blank">CT scans</a> that is believed to offer a more reliable means of locating prostate cancer metastasis. A <a href="https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2020/prostate-cancer-psma-pet-ct-metastasis" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">study</a> published last spring suggests it may be the most accurate way to diagnose prostate cancer metastasis than any method previously available.</p><p>Prior to PSMA PET/CT, the primary way to look for metastatic prostate cancer was to image the body using x-ray-based CT scans and to perform bone scans, since bone is where prostate cancer often spreads. CT scans, however, often miss small tumors, and bone scans can generate false positives as a result of other damage or abnormalities that have nothing to do with prostate cancer.</p><p>PSMA PET/CT scans track the travels of an intravenously administered radioactive glucose tracer throughout the body. For hunting down prostate cancer, this tracer contains a molecule that binds to the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1472940/" target="_blank">PSMA</a> protein that's present in large amounts in prostate tumors. The molecule is linked to a radioisotope, <a href="https://netrf.org/2018/11/13/gallium-68-scan-for-neuroendocrine-tumors/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">gallium-68</a> (Ga-68).</p><p>In last spring's research, PSAM PET/CT was shown to be 27 percent more accurate than previous methods at finding metastases (92 percent accuracy as opposed to 65 percent). In addition, it was found to be much less likely to produce false positives, and it was particularly good at detecting tumors far removed from the prostate.</p>
A good kind of avoidance behavior<p>"Radiation therapy can damage the salivary glands," says Vogel, "which may lead to complications. Patients may have trouble eating, swallowing, or speaking, which can be a real burden."</p><p>The researchers looked back through the cases of 723 patients who had undergone radiation treatment, interested in seeing if inadvertent radiation of the tubarial glands was associated with the complications experienced by the patients. It turned out that this <em>was</em> the case: In cases where more radiation had been delivered to this area, patients did indeed report more in the way of complications of the type one would expect when salivary glands are radiated.</p><p>Now that we know the tubarial salivary glands exist, therapists can stay out of their way. Vogel says, "For most patients, it should technically be possible to avoid delivering radiation to this newly discovered location of the salivary gland system in the same way we try to spare known glands."</p><p>He's hopeful that that things may be about to get at least a bit better for cancer patients: "Our next step is to find out how we can best spare these new glands and in which patients. If we can do this, patients may experience less side effects which will benefit their overall quality of life after treatment."</p>
A new survey found that 27 percent of millennials are saving more money due to the pandemic, but most can't stay within their budgets.