The Limits of Social Media

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When a tragedy occurs, it is a natural response to want to do something to help out. Today, social media gives people ways to do something, and feel like they are doing something to help out.

But the fact of the matter is most of the posts, statements, rallies and petitions on social media are worthless, pointless, and sometimes counterproductive. Because people have the impression of doing something helpful, it prevents them from doing things that can actually help.Effort is put into the ephemeral instead of the effective.

Back in April 2014 some 276 girls were abducted in Chibok, Nigeria by the Islamic group Boko Haram. Some 50 escaped immediately thereafter, but based on the news reports I was able to find this week, the rest are still missing, probably divied up as brides and forced to convert to Islam.

At the time the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls became all the thing on social media. Even Michelle Obama posted a picture of herself holding a paper asking #Bring Back Our Girls. But not even the social media actions of the wife of the “most powerful man on earth” could lead to substantive action to bring the release of the girls.

The turmoil did lead to a change of political leadership in Nigeria, but that change has not produced any results in the Bring Back Our Girls campaign.

Now we have another tragedy, that of last Friday’s terrorism in Paris. People on social media are remembering Paris, changing profile pictures with transparencies of the French flag on it, etc. But comments about how sad these things make one, how indignant, or any other sentiments, don’t address the issues that created Friday’s tragedy.

Now lest people think I am unsympathetic to the fate of Paris and the Parisians, expressions of solidarity do have a modest benefit, but let us not fall prey to the fallacy of thinking they can achieve more than they can.

As I wrote on Saturday, the solution lies in strategies that don’t devalue others, even enemies, and that is open to listening when the possibility of dialogue is there, but doesn’t surrender dignity of those it is defending to attempt to get it. Something that is proactive and not reactionary.

So when you see the responses out there, whether using social media or not, ask those questions, rather than just following the latest social media “feel good” meme. Don’t fall prey to the fallacy of wishful thinking.

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