Publishing stories about how the internet is bad for young girls seems to be a trend. It’s a well-worn narrative, but it’s not completely unfounded given some of the well-documented dangers that exist online.
But why are we blaming technology for a problem that predates it?
Talking about “the internet” as though it’s a singular experience is not really productive: While there are spaces online that have shown themselves to be hostile to women and other marginalized voices, social media, in particular, has also been a tremendous source of inspiration, connection, and activism for those very same voices.
Take Vilissa Thompson, whom we talk to in this week’s episode of Divided States of Women. She is a disability rights activist who has used online activism to raise awareness and create a community to fill the gap she has seen in discussions of disability and race. Using the hashtag #DisabilityTooWhite, she called attention to the lack of representation of people of color within the disability rights community. She explains that the activism of disability advocates has led to huge protests across the country that ultimately aided in the defeat of the Affordable Care Act repeal.
Thompson is not just an inspiring activist and organizer — she is the perfect example of how the tools of the internet can precipitate real social change.
Thompson is one of many voices that are fighting for change and building community along the way using the tools of online activism. In the past few years, we’ve seen several hashtag campaigns extend offline and change the public conversation in profound ways as well, including #BlackLivesMatter, #OscarsSoWhite, #MeToo, #YesAllWomen, #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, and more. According to the MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics, some of the biggest consumers of online news and politics are people of color and those from socioeconomically disadvantaged households. And the Pew Research Center found these same groups use social media at higher rates as well.
For some marginalized voices, social media isn’t necessarily dangerous. It instead provides a safer place for protest — something the real world doesn’t always afford them. While concerns about the detrimental influence of social media in our lives are valid, there are positive aspects of it too. In its best form, social media creates virtual safe spaces for historically marginalized communities and allows that work to translate into the “real world.”