Twitter fascinates me. I love the spontaneity of its design, the impulsivity and rapidness of it, how it encourages one to quickly broadcast and document their everyday musings and opinions without giving much thought into what is said. I love the vastness of Twitter and how I am able to keep up with not only friends and local businesses but also worldwide phenomena including Michelle Obama, Alec Baldwin, and even the Dalai Lama. Twitter provides so much more of an insight into the raw goings-on of the world. The world literally watched and read as Twitter propelled social revolutions in places like Tunisia and Egypt. In fact, I now follow several Egyptians who live tweet protests and actions in places like Tahrir Square. I feel I am able to be exposed to real news sans the media bias.
As someone who is passionate about humanity, Twitter is a great outlet for consuming and communicating information on social justice issues. A large percentage of those I follow on Twitter are comprised of non-profit groups and people dedicated to certain causes. I follow various human trafficking NGOs, proponents of world peace, ministries helping the impoverished, and more. All of these types of organizations are important, and the people involved are not only acting in life-changing ways; they are living in the core of what life is all about.
Twitter makes me feel good. I raise awareness on special days dedicated to causes that I follow. If I read something that happened in Egypt or Cambodia or New York, I re-tweet it to make sure all my followers are given the opportunity to care and not live in ignorance. January 11th was National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. I saw this pop up in my Twitter feed from several of the organizations I follow while I was tweeting a dry, sarcastic conversation with some of my friends. I paused my conversation and thought, I need to tweet this now before I forget so that other people will know the significance of today. I paused and was just starting to realize the absurdity of my thought, and I saw a tweet come through from one of my favorite NGOs that said, “Let us know what you are doing to raise awareness for human trafficking today.”
That word is tricky.
I had an inner boxing match between my mind and heart the rest of the day because of that tweet.
First, I rationalized: I have so many causes that I am dedicated to on an almost-daily basis. I help locally. I am a daily point of contact for many friends going through rough times and tragedies like divorce, disease, miscarriages, and loss of loved ones. I am a vegetarian. I conserve energy in all ways possible and reuse plastics to decrease my carbon footprint. I’ve tutored and participated in various ministries and non-profits. I care deeply for those around me and for those not living around me. I pray all the time that I would be used in life with a purpose to help others.
But how could I possibly justify the fact that retweeting a statement would make an actual difference?
What was I doing to make a difference?
Now, I’m sure that when my friends and family read this, they will want to comment with a list of things they feel I do on regular basis to help others in order to make me feel better. That’s nice and encouraging, but that’s not the point.
The point is that, in my mind, I had actually come to think of myself as a humanitarian simply by dedicating myself to raising awareness with my words.
While I love Twitter, this is a danger resulting from the impulsivity of its design. For one second of our day we are able to be “social justice activists” by tweeting about a good cause. We are able to pause our conversations to tweet about an important issue in order to feel good about ourselves and then carry on the rest of our conversation and our day.
A couple days after perpetually mulling over these thoughts, I read a tweet by Bob Goff, who wrote:
One deeply held belief we’re acting on is better than a hundred opinions.I’d rather fail trying than fail watching
— Bob Goff (@bobgoff) January 13, 2012
Using social media to promote awareness for good causes is not bad. In fact, it’s great to use your time on Twitter in that fashion. But don’t let it be the only way you help, and don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re awesome for it.