The Problem with Social Media Activism

Posted in current events, opinion, pop culture with tags , , , , , on November 19, 2013 by Kyle Fleming

I’d like to think that I’m the type of guy who walks the walk. If I say something should be done or approached a certain way, then I should be able to approach it the certain way. I don’t mind awareness campaigns, as long as you follow up your awareness with something tangible and substantial.

So when I see something on Facebook or Tumblr that is activist in nature, but doesn’t appear to have any substance, I immediately become suspicious. Over the weekend, it was something a Facebook friend had posted about the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan. It was a huge post supposedly written by someone living in the Philippines, giving a detailed account of the first six days after the typhoon, and the awful, horrible conditions that people are living in in the aftermath.

But the very first line of the post infuriated me so much that I couldn’t read the rest of the post. The very first words of what will surely become Facebook spam are: “I don’t watch TV news, so I have only heard a little about the bad situation in the Philipeans. [sic]“

I went on brief but strongly worded rant about this on Twitter, but the basic point, which I will expand on in this post, is simple: In your effort to show that you are above corporate media, you have exposed your ignorance to the world, and it will definitely come back to bite you.

It’s amazing how many assumptions can be made about this person by one sentence alone. To paraphrase the sentence, it says, “I don’t watch TV news, so I didn’t know about the destruction in the Philippines.”

Now, I’m as against commercial media as anyone else. If your primary news source is only one cable news channel, you’re being subjected to a certain agenda, and news stories will have a certain slant, whether you realize it or not. Fox News has the conservative slant, MSNBC has the liberal slant. Even an institution as supposedly neutral as CNN occasionally slants stories in a certain direction to fit a narrative. Any time corporate interests are at stake, organizations will happily bend toward those interests in order to keep up the cash flow.

But in today’s information age, where literally anything you could ever want to know is a quick Google search away, saying “I don’t watch TV news” is no longer an excuse. You don’t watch cable news, but you’ve obviously heard about the typhoon that ripped through the Philippines. How did you hear about it?

The other day I was pointed to a story in the USA Today about how a Colorado judge has allowed a man accused of sexual assault to blame his identical twin brother for the attacks, as they share DNA, and really, who knows, right? How did I hear about this story? A friend of mine texted me. “You won’t believe what this judge in Colorado did,” she said. “Look it up.” A lot of breaking news stories I learn about come from Twitter, which often include links to several different news sites to verify the story’s authenticity.

There are endless news sources to refer to for more information about breaking news. The internet alone gives you access to blogs, newspaper websites (like the New York Times), corporate news websites (like CNN), and news-centric websites (like Slate or Salon), among others. Outside of the internet and television, there are newspapers! Your local area has a newspaper that costs less than a dollar to buy. There’s also the radio! I get most of my news from National Public Radio, which isn’t corporate-controlled, but rather listener-controlled, but even commercial radio has news breaks every hour that gives you information.

The question that keeps running through my mind is this: if this person is a Redditor (as they mention in the very next sentence), and presumably is getting their news from Reddit, why the hell didn’t they just open a new tab and look up more information about the typhoon and educate themselves?

And that’s my real problem with Social Media Activism: we take an ethos-centric Facebook or Tumblr post, and we instantly make a judgement based on virtually nothing at all, and then that becomes an opinion set in stone. And when competing evidence is shown to us that may suggest that our opinion about an issue is wrong — or even that the issue itself is very complicated when viewed in context — we hold firm to our beliefs and tear down the opposing viewpoint. It’s a legitimate psychological phenomenon, and absolutely explains the polarization of American politics today.

There was a post I saw on Tumblr a while ago that illustrates this confirmation bias beautifully. The initial post was a picture of a joke from a joke book. The joke was very simple:

What do you call the useless flap of skin at the end of the penis?
A man.

Tumblr feminists cackled gleefully at this joke, because apparently they’ve never heard a joke that was disparaging toward men before. Screw boys, am I right?

But then, brilliantly, someone made a comment on the post that was so brilliantly simple. All this user did was change two words in the joke, and reposted it:

What do you call the useless flap of skin at the end of the vagina?
A woman.

Suddenly the tables have turned, and Tumblr feminists would have none of it. “What sort of mysoginistic crap is this?” they cried. “It’s this sort of oppression against women that is the problem! I hope you’re happy!”

And that’s the point. Social Media Activism is all knee-jerk, college hyper-liberalism. There’s no thought. There’s no substance. There’s no critical thinking. Watch the video, share the post, get back to Reddit.

This sort of activism, however, is fleeting. There will come a time, once you’re away from the safety of the college campus, where you’re going to casually mention that you don’t pay attention to commercial media, so you don’t know very much about this particular major news story, and someone is going to reply with, “What are you, stupid?”

And suddenly you’re That Guy, the ignorant one in the office, who can’t be bothered to know about the world around him. And that’s a lonely road to walk.

The Tea Party Revisited

Posted in current events, politics with tags , , , on November 12, 2013 by Kyle Fleming

I went on an unintentional hiatus back in May 2012. Things came up in college, I got busy, was updating the blog less and less, so I decided to give it a rest for a while. I had full intentions of returning to regular updates, but then I got a job and wasn’t able to get back into the swing of things.

Then in late October 2013, something strange happened. One of my old posts, Why The Tea Party Is Ruining America, started getting a lot of comments.

Keep in mind, I was doing nothing to promote the blog. My political opinions were slowly making their way back to Facebook, going against why I had created this blog in the first place. And suddenly, there were five comments in one day, with two more comments coming later in the week, most in favor of the Tea Party.

Because of this newfound popularity, I thought it would be nice to read some of these comments and look back on the positive influence the Tea Party has had on American politics.

I recently had a political debate on a friend’s Facebook wall after she had posted this story on how Schroedinger’s Presidential Candidate Chris Christie is being heavily scrutinized by “hyper-conservative,” Tea Party-affiliated critics who say the Republican Governor isn’t “conservative enough” to be President.

The crux of the argument at the point I jumped into it was, “Sure, you can go online, and you can find people who claim to be affiliated with the Tea Party who say truly awful things about black people and wanting to kill members of Congress, but they’re just a few bad apples. If you ignore them, then you see that the Tea Party is just as civilized as anyone else.”

But a lot of what I’ve seen online and in the news about is nothing BUT hatred and vitriol. Comments sections on news organization websites are not bound by the same poo-pooing as commercial media coverage. People I meet in reality on the streets in Florida are not bound by media spin, though they are very good at parroting.

Take this gentleman I saw driving ahead of me a couple of weeks ago:

This is an actual person. In reality. Driving a windowless white van. Covered in anti-Obama, anti-Socialist propaganda. It’s the kind of intimidation that one can’t help but be very aware of, and one that seems to permeate every political discussion I have with someone who claims to be affiliated with the Tea Party (and, occasionally, people who claim to be “a registered Independent” while spitting out conservative talking points).

When I first wrote about the Tea Party movement back in 2010, all we saw were old angry white men. Fox News would promote Tea Party rallies across the nation, sending media personalities and news anchors to these different events. They owned it for a long time. In recent years, we’ve seen Fox News back away from actively promoting Tea Party activities, while still not being overly critical of conservative politicians and events. As a whole, members of the movement have appeared to settle down.

And yet, as I saw in my Facebook debate, and as I saw on this creepy duct taped van, and as we see in the media, there are still some people affiliated with the Tea Party that are so mindless that they still believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Obama is a socialist dictator, a Muslim, who’s trying to destroy the American way of life.

In my mind, the Tea Party — which has branched out from simply a movement to a full-fledged political party in some states — is still dangerous. In my experience, there is no attempt at discourse, and there appears to be no willingness to compromise. The dangerous few are willing to shut down the government and waste $24 BILLION in taxpayer money, all in the name of fiscal conservatism. They are the ones that want to destroy America.

Claim your few bad apples all you want, Tea Partiers. Make your false equivalencies with the Occupy movement, or mainstream political parties. But your barrel is definitely rotten.

Same-Sex Marriage, and Why the Church Should Just Drop It

Posted in current events, opinion, politics, religion with tags , , , , , , on May 11, 2012 by Kyle Fleming

In the past week, two vastly important events occurred regarding the LGBT community. First, North Carolinians make their voices heard in the voting booth on Tuesday, passing a state constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage by defining it as between one man and one woman.

Two days later, President Obama, in an interview with ABC News, came out personally in favor of same-sex marriage, becoming the first sitting US President to do so.

It’s been an absolutely bipolar week of achievements and heartaches, and it’s something that almost everyone has touched on, which is why I was hesitant to write this article. However, a Facebook friend of mine recently posted an article entitled Why Same-Sex Marriage Perverts the Relationship Between Christ and His Church. In it, the author argues that Christian marriage is defined in the Bible as between one man and one woman, because it is representative of the Church. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians:

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. — Ephesians 5:22-27

Personally, I thought it was a very enlightening article. That is, if you believe that marriage is defined by the church, and don’t completely understand why the LGBT community is fighting for marriage equality.

Any church denomination would be hard-pressed to redefine their definition of marriage because there is so much biblical backing for the “one man-one woman” definition of marriage, as evidenced by the citing of Scripture in this article. Everyone in the LGBT community understands this. It would be pointless to make the Church do anything, since they are an entity all of their own, exempt from taxes and protected to their own freedoms by the Constitution.

What the LGBT community is fighting for is LEGAL marriage equality, as defined by the government. Legal marriage gives couples over 1000 rights as married couples, such as being able to visit your significant other in the emergency room, government assistance benefits, and tax breaks, among other things.

The problem with this fight is that same-sex marriage opponents often conflate the two, thinking that what the LGBT community is fighting is some kind of “war” on traditional marriage. That’s not even close to the truth. Individual churches may choose whether or not couples can be married in the church, but even when same-sex couples are denied, they should still be able to go to the court house and find a Justice of the Peace, just like any other couple who doesn’t want a church wedding can do.

Having a “Christian” definition of marriage, to me, raises up a bunch of other questions. Like, if marriage is a Christian institution, why are people not as angry when straight Muslim, Jewish, or atheist couples get married? What is it about same-sex couples, some of whom have been together for upwards of 30 years, destroying the “sanctity” of an institution that has a 60% divorce rate?

Someone in the comments thread on Facebook pointed out that the crux of the argument in the article is that, in a same-sex marriage, there is no one to submit to the other. Two men can’t submit to each other because the man is the ruler of the household. Two rulers means no one is submissive. Which would be correct, if people still valued traditional gender roles and were as two-dimensional as some would believe.

As far as I’m aware, two people getting married has little to no effect on a massive organization like Christianity. I really don’t see what the big deal is.

KONY 2012: Why Emotional Appeals are Bad for Activism

Posted in current events, opinion with tags , , , , , , on March 9, 2012 by Kyle Fleming

In case you’ve been living under a rock, or happened to give up social networking for Lent, you’ve probably seen this video making the rounds:

This video, created by the foundation Invisible Children, was meant to raise awareness about Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), known for abducting children and using them as soldiers and sex slaves. It really is a terrible, terrible thing happening in Uganda. Invisible Children hopes the video will raise awareness about his crimes and hope to bring him to justice.

To be fair, when you read some of the stuff that Kony has done over the years, it really is terrible. However, I have a sinking feeling that this is just another one of those awareness campaigns where nothing happens (and we all know how I feel about those).

Kony needs to be brought to justice, no doubt. But how is sharing a YouTube video going to help? It’s cool that Ugandan tragedies are in vogue now, but most people will go no further than hitting that share button on Facebook. And those that do go further will probably take the easiest route they can find, which in this case, is giving money to Invisible Children. I mean, come on, they made the movie, they must have connections to help out. And they seem like a reputable charity. Financial assistance leads to real assistance, right?

Except that may be doing more harm than good. Let’s take a look at Invisible Children’s financial statement from 2010 through June 2011. Invisible Children received over $8.2 million in revenue in this time period, which is a lot of money to potentially be working with. Theoretically, it’s a lot of money that could be going to help Ugandans.

How much of that money went to direct services to help those Ugandans. Just over $2.8 million. Sounds impressive, until you do the math, and realize that it’s less than 35% of it’s revenue going toward direct services. How does that compare to other charities? The American Red Cross gives around 92% of its revenue to direct services. UNICEF gives around 90% toward direct services.

Also, what many people might not know is that, while the original goal of Invisible Children was to try and prevent the abduction of children. However, this that didn’t work so well, they’re now fighting fire with fire. Meaning the money that goes to Invisible Children gets forwarded to the Ugandan military, buying weapons so they can fight Kony and the LRA.

Yes. The LRA. Donating to Invisible Children is donating to the Ugandan military to fight and kill the children that you’re trying to save. And it doesn’t help that the Ugandan military is just as corrupt as Kony himself. (Follow the links in this post for more information on that.)

But what I think bothers me the most about this KONY 2012 movement is that I’m really afraid that nothing will happen. Invisible Children set a goal to get rid of Kony by April 20. But what happens when that doesn’t work? Will people still care about Ugandan children in a month? Or maybe a better question is: will people still have the fire to do something after April 20?

I can almost guarantee that most people sharing the video were sucked in by the horrible images and emotional appeals, but can’t find Uganda on a map.

Maybe I’m cynical, but emotional appeals will not work if you want me on your side of justice. I prefer facts. I prefer knowing what you plan to do to solve the problem. Ousting a dictator isn’t as easy as finding him and saying, “Hey, you. You’re being kind of mean. You should probably knock it off.” If you don’t have any answers for me, then I’m sorry, I can’t feel comfortable joining your cause.

To close, I leave you with a statement from Don Cheadle’s Twitter feed. He posted a series of tweets on Wednesday (that I’ve combined and edited to close) that made a lot of points that I fully support:

Still cycling through the information. Firsthand: I’ve been to the night commuters camps, world vision and the like. No question Kony is a bad guy. But divergent perspectives I find informative and the truth often lies betwixt and between what’s proffered. You must use your critical minds and innate instincts to decide for yourselves while leaving open the possibility to understand more as more is understood…. Kony’s on the [International Criminal Court]‘s list for a reason and his deeds are well documented. I believe in Ugandans solving Ugandans’ problems. [It's a] tricky situation.

The Gay Marriage Debate

Posted in current events, opinion, politics with tags , , , , , , , on February 8, 2012 by Kyle Fleming

Rick Santorum is an idiot.

Ordinarily I don’t like calling people names. However, Rick Santorum, Republican Presidential candidate, by sending the tweet above, proved himself to be an idiot.

In case you don’t understand the reference: The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that no state has the right to deny gay and lesbian couples the right to marriage. There is no social or legal justification for denying same-sex couples all of the rights that married couples receive. It’s a great step forward for civil rights.

But apparently, telling the states that there’s no reason to deny all people equal rights is stripping rights away. Word of advice for those trying to figure that out: don’t bother. The more you think about it, the less sense it makes.

For me, this falls under the larger blanket of “wars on religion” that Republicans are so convinced that Democrats are waging, but for now, I’ll just focus on the gay marriage aspect.

I have never really understood what the big deal about gay marriage is. If two people absolutely want to commit themselves to each other for the rest of their lives, I say let them do it. There really is absolutely no reason for anyone to deny anyone else that right. Allowing same-sex couples the opportunity for marriage doesn’t mean straight couples aren’t allowed to marry. It just means more people are allowed to get married. It’s not a complicated issue.

Allowing same-sex couples the opportunity to be married doesn’t mean you have to have a same-sex marriage. I don’t plan on marrying another man, and I’m well aware that I never will be forced to marry another man if a gay marriage law passes.

There are only so many ways to say it, and yet people are still so ignorant and stupid about it.

But I have a question for Mr. Frothy-Mixture: exactly who’s rights are being stripped away? Seven million people are suddenly being oppressed because a court of appeals says it’s stupid for people to be prejudiced?

I just really, truly, have no idea what sort of logic–or lack thereof–is being employed with ignorant statements like Rick Santorum’s. If there’s someone that can explain to me that line of thinking to me, please do, because I’m so confused.

Keep Your Opinions To Yourself

Posted in current events, opinion with tags , , , on January 30, 2012 by Kyle Fleming

On a bus trip back from Des Moines this weekend, I decided to grab a Jimmy John’s sandwich to eat. As I was eating my sandwich, one of my bus mates saw me eating (along with some like-minded people), and said, “By buying Jimmy John’s, you support the murder of elephants.”

I then had to sit through two hours of the people behind me talking about that statement and the merits of changing your shopping habits.

While it may be true that the owner of Jimmy John’s started big game hunting after making a lot of money from his business, I don’t feel I should be marginalized as inhumane because I wanted a sandwich.

While the pair behind me did make some excellent points–namely that, while it’s important to know where your money goes, you should also take social aspects such as current need, franchise owners, and local community into consideration–I really feel that they missed the bigger picture of the exchange. Which is simply: my bus mate’s flippant statement was uncalled for, unnecessary, and, frankly, pretty rude.

I appreciate people having opinions; it means they’re thinking about the world around them and forming ideas. What I don’t appreciate is when people spout those opinions to people who don’t want it.

If you want to raise awareness, fine. Hold a rally. Stage a protest. Provide the public with information in a non-confrontational way. But as I’ve pointed out before, being aware of things only goes so far. And I’ll even amend my previous statements by saying that there is certainly good awareness and bad awareness.

Good awareness makes people rethink how they do things and could lead to a change in behavior.

Bad awareness is condescensing statements about elephant murder that almost makes me want to give money directly to big game hunters.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t mind the fact that Jimmy John is a hunter. I’ve grown up in a small town in Minnesota, where people often hunted or fished for sport. Jimmy John had always been a sport hunter, hunting for elk, deer, geese, whatever happened to be in season. And now that he has the money, he’s able to expand his hunting horizons and find greater thrills in nature. And why should I hate him for that? If I made a bunch of money from starting a successful restaurant chain, I would definitely use my money for things I’m interested it. I’d probably buy studio time, I’d definitely travel, and I may purchase a bunch of music, or sporting event tickets.

I wouldn’t go big game hunting, not because I’m a die-hard animal activist, but rather because I have absolutely no interest in hunting. It doesn’t excite me like it does other people. I’m a pretty boring person and stay within my comfort zone most of the time.

For all facets of life–religion, politics, social causes–while it’s good to have opinions, keep them too yourself until there’s an appropriate time to share them. There is a very thin line between outspoken and overspoken.

Why Christmas Sucks

Posted in opinion with tags , , , , on December 23, 2011 by Kyle Fleming

For a holiday that’s supposed to be about coming together with the people you love, Christmas is certainly a holiday with much animosity and hatred.

On the one hand, there are the people who feel the need to engage in the annual “War on Christmas.” Not the people who actually attack Christmas, but the people who preemptively defend Christmas from those who attack it. The offensive defense comes in many forms, ranging from those who put reminders on Facebook and Twitter and everywhere else they can remind people that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season™,” to the ultra-conservative types (especially those on Fox News) who get offended every time someone tries to be inclusive by wishing people “Happy Holidays.”

To be fair, calling a decoration a “Holiday Tree” is kind of stupid, but that may only be because I grew up in a Christian household and have always known it as a Christmas tree. However, there is nothing offensive about wishing someone a Happy Holidays, especially since Christmas isn’t the only holiday around this time of year. Before Christmas Eve, there are a few days of Hanukkah that are celebrated. Kwanzaa is also celebrated this time of year, and even though is was created fairly recently (the late 1960s), it’s still a nationally recognized holiday. And then, a week after all of these celebrations, there is the New Year. There are so many holidays all at the same time of the year that for many, myself included, it’s just easier to say “Happy Holidays.” It’s not being discriminatory or offensive, it’s being inclusive. Many times, I’ll just eschew the holiday greetings and just say “Have a nice day.” It’s so much simpler.

Sadly, for some, the most important thing about Christmas is urging people to not take the “Christ” out of Christmas, since it’s in danger of happening every year. Stores that wish people a Happy Holidays are contributing to the “evil” secularization of Christmas, a holiday that has become less about Jesus and more about consumerism with each passing year.

Which brings us to the polar opposite: those who urge people to remember that Christmas was stolen from a pagan winter solstice celebration, and that Jesus isn’t the Reason for the Season™ after all. These people are more than willing to remind everyone that there were other deities that also were “born” on December 25, and that decorations like trees, wreaths, and stockings all have secular origins and are thus proof that Christmas can’t possibly be a Christian holiday.

On a quick aside, as childish and antagonistic as this is, I sometimes wonder why the non-religious community feels the need to be so vocal about Christmas. The whole point of atheism as I understand it is to not believe in or acknowledge the existence of gods of any sort. It seems silly for me to deny the existence of deities, and then once a year embrace the celebration for personal gain. I understand that this doesn’t apply to ALL non-religious people, and I completely understand that it’s an uninformed statement that probably shouldn’t be included in the final cut of this post. But it’s not as stupid as a lot of other stuff out there, and actually is more supported than many of the other incendiary claims out there.

The big question is: Why does it matter? Who really cares what this time of year is called? Despite the big concern from most conservatives, December 25 is in no danger from being called something other than “Christmas.” There is no secular push to change the calendar and list this time of year as “Holiday,” despite the concerns of Real Americans™ (actual claim, skip to 1:50 in the clip).

December is the only holiday months where both extremes are equally pissed off and defensive for no good reason. The whole point of this season isn’t to celebrate Jesus’ birth, and it’s not about accumulating the most stuff. The point of the holiday season is the same point as every other holiday season: to appreciate and be thankful for the things that you have. Valentine’s Day doesn’t even have this much animosity and fighting despite there being two clear factions that both hate the holiday. Easter, another Jesus holiday, doesn’t have people making a huge deal about the Easter Bunny visiting the mall, co-opting the Reason for the Season™.

Not everything has to be political, and not everything needs to be a battle. Even militaries across the world have a cease fire around this time of year. Why can’t we do the same, and focus on each other as people instead of enemies?

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