The student newspaper of Strath Haven High School. The Panther Press is first and foremost a reflection of the opinions and interests of the student body. For this reason, we do not publish any anonymous or teacher-written submissions, and we do not discriminate against any ideology or political opinion. While we are bound by school policy (and funding), we will not render any article neutral, although individual points may be edited for obscene or inflammatory content. Finally, the articles published in the Panther Press do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or advisors.

Panther Press

  • Junior Prom on 4/22!

  • Varsity Arts Ceremony on 4/21

Stuck on the Web: How Internet Activism is Killing Progress

Brendan Lordan, '17, Staff Writer

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






If you’ve done absolutely nothing to contribute to any cause in the past several years–congratulations: you might not be doing as much damage as you possibly could. With no lack of problems in the world, it is every single individual on the Earth’s responsibility to contribute to an issue or movement larger than themselves. No matter your political, religious, or ethical alignment, it is necessary to take up a relevant cause, whether it’s LGBT rights, climate change, or, in the case of a certain boot headgearwearing politician, the poor dental hygiene of American citizens. A true personal cause cannot be dropped at the first sign of inconvenience. The marchers in Selma did not stay home on a cold day and, more recently, the protestors of the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock, North Dakota did not postpone their activism when faced with rain and pepper spray alike.

Most importantly, they didn’t throw up a solidarity banner on their Facebook wall and sit, hunched over their computer, typing inspirational messages about how much they sympathized with the Sioux and their supporters.

This is not a criticism of the portion of internet activists that volunteer their time, write letters, have genuine conversations to spread awareness of issues, and live their lives in other ways that support whatever cause they choose to. It also needs to be said that it is not expected for anyone, especially high school students, to sacrifice for a cause as much as any Susan B. Anthony or Elon Musk, but sacrifice and effort are two very different things. In the digital age, it is possible to do more with less effort than ever before. While this is incredibly useful, it has raised the bar for accomplishments to an unprecedented height, creating a whole new wave of problems. High school students see these problems everywhere; standards set impossibly high for grades, accomplishments, even friends. The bar has been raised just as high for activism, as the web gives the revolutionary hopeful an arsenal of tools and up-to-date information never available before now. Dr. Michael Boyle, a West Chester University professor of communications, has specialized in protest communications for more than 15 years. “Social media is one of the biggest changes in how people protest,” Boyle said of the phenomenon. “I can join a cause and connect with people in Standing Rock without being there. It shifts the traditional media model. Now, you have much more messaging that happens by protesters, instead of the traditional news networks.”

While this seems like a fully positive development, in some ways it has devalued protest as a concept. In a sample by the Panther Press of several high school students who did the 2014 ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, not a single one either knew what ALS stood for or had donated to the cause. However, over two million people were nominated for the challenge and 220 million dollars were raised. So can we consider the Ice Bucket Challenge a success? It depends how you qualify success. A search for ALS yields more results about the challenge than about the disease itself. A cure has not been found and the issue has almost entirely slipped from the public conscience. This is the more sinister side of social media activism: entire causes can pass into the realm of an outdated trend. “If you tweet about a cause or like a Facebook page, is that a good thing? Sure.” says Boyle. “But is it any different than putting a bumper sticker on your car?”

The Ice Bucket Challenge, the 22 Pushup Challenge, Facebook filters to show solidarity after the Orlando and Paris shootings–what exactly have they done? Awareness and togetherness are often cited as achievements of internet activism, and they are important to some extent. But once sympathy is shown and an issue is brought to the doorstep of some of the most influential people in the world, how much more can they do? “If people stop there, there isn’t the actual physical effort that takes causes across the finish line,” says Boyle.

He gives the example of the Invisible Children campaign, which sought public awareness of the grievous human rights violations by the Lord’s Resistance Army in central Africa and its leader, Joseph Kony. “Everyone’s tweeting about this issue, and then it sort of goes away.” Boyle remarked about the cause and it’s internet counterpart, “Kony 2012.” “One of the possible negative aspects is that you can fulfill this need to do something without doing anything substantive.” For those who haven’t followed up on the topic, Joseph Kony and the army he leads are still alive and fighting in central Africa.

This example is perhaps the greatest threat to modern activism. If nothing is done, of course it won’t lead to progress, but it won’t lead to the illusion of progress either. Issues are no longer dropped after they are solved, they are dropped after they go out of style. ALS still impacts tens of thousands, while buckets sit in corners. The rates of veteran suicide have not changed because of a few pushups. Terror attacks, bigotry, and hatred have survived the onslaught of hashtags and Facebook statuses. If you’ve recognized any of this “keyboard crusading” behavior in yourself, you can relax; it’s far from too late. Dr. Boyle suggests starting at a local level. “Even being involved in mainstream politics is a useful way to push causes you care about forward,” Boyle suggests. “Find something you care about and you’re passionate about and find a way to contribute to your community through it.”

So next time you find yourself about to unfriend Aunt Agatha for her political beliefs or sign a petition on Change.org, stop and think about what impact you’re actually having. If you find yourself thinking “it can’t hurt,” think again: if you stop there, it can.

The student newspaper of Strath Haven High School. The Panther Press is first and foremost a reflection of the opinions and interests of the student body. For this reason, we do not publish any anonymous or teacher-written submissions, and we do not discriminate against any ideology or political opinion. While we are bound by school policy (and funding), we will not render any article neutral, although individual points may be edited for obscene or inflammatory content. Finally, the articles published in the Panther Press do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or advisors.
Stuck on the Web: How Internet Activism is Killing Progress