80% of success is just showing up. But is participating in something through social media really showing up?
It was recently announced that the television show Constantine had been canceled. The show, which had been on the bubble since its debut, had low ratings, a small but dedicated fan following, and a producer who was very enthusiastic about rallying those fans to the show's cause on social media. As noted by Myles McNutt in an article on the AV Club, the show's producer Daniel Cerone made valiant (and successful, it should be noted) attempts to get related hashtags such as #Hellblazers and #SaveConstantine trending at the same time that he was meeting with NBC executives about the future of the show, such that he could literally pull out his phone and "show NBC we're trending." Cerone also gathered staff and stars of the show to live-tweet episodes, and encouraged fans to bump their streaming numbers by watching the show on the NBC website.
Utilizing social media in this way is an innovative approach to proving a show's appeal, although, in the end, it was a futile one. Although there is hope to save the show by moving it to another network, chances are pretty slim.
This isn't the first time fans of an on-the-cusp show have rallied in an attempt to save it. Supporters of the show Chuck bought Subway sandwiches to try and keep it on the air. Community was goosed by flashmobs of fans singing "O Christmas Troy." So why did the almost Herculean efforts of Constantine's creators and producers on social media fail? Maybe because social media is way too easy.
One of the more clear yet less commonly mentioned reasons for the monstrous rise of social media and social networks in the digital age is its ridiculous convenience. This may seem obvious, but while we all talk about how we "live in a more connected world" and how much communication both professional and interpersonal has changed in the last decade or so, we give less attention to the fact that communication on social media is basically very easy, and very passive. Even fifteen or twenty years ago, congratulating a friend on a new baby meant a phone call at minimum. This meant actual, live interaction. The same thing on facebook might now just be a quick "Congratulations!" under a photo the new parents have uploaded. It may even just involve a 'like,' perhaps the most passive way to approve of something.
These observation are not new ones, but what happens when this sort of ease is applied to subjects of actual importance? Usually, a whole lot of nothing, because in terms of real impact, taking action on social media is as close to nothing as you can get. This is how the ease of social media can become perniciously dangerous, and deadening to real activism, bcause a person getting a facebook message or tweet about a current event or public crisis can simply like or retweet the message, and then very quickly move on, satisfied that they have done their part when no real action has been taken.
The most obvious example is, of course, the much-mocked 'Kony 2012' phenomenon, which lead to a great deal of awareness and very little action. While we all jeer at that, and the downfall of its founder, that was hardly the first or last time that happened. The #BringBackOurGirls viral phenomenon certainly made those who participated in it feel good about their (incredibly small) support of the efforts to return those kidnapped girls (even Michelle Obama participated) but what is that compared to actual, in-person protest? This may seem obvious, but hashtags can't save people, and 'spreading awareness' doesn't help those whose plight is already being covered by the major news organizations.
I may sound a bit hectoring, but it's only because I'm guilty of this myself. During and after the 2009 election in Iran and the rise of the Green Movement there, I dutifully changed my facebook profile picture to a plain green background with the solid text "WHERE IS THEIR VOTE?" on it in big lettering. It felt good to do so, but, if I'm being honest with myself, making me feel good was almost certainly the only thing my actions accomplished. This kind of activism isn't really activism. It is slacktivism. It is literally the least a person can do to support a cause.
Again, this isn't scolding, nor is it an attack on social media itself. It is a very convenient tool for communication. It has changed our lives and will continue to do so in the future. But we need to be very careful about what actions we are taking in support of the causes we champion, whether that is voicing our support for a beloved television show that is on verge of cancelation (in related news, I couldn't be happier that Agent Carter is returning for a second season!) or a charity or social cause that could probably use your signature or donation a lot more than your facebook like. Say what you will about the protesters of the Occupy Wall Street movement (and a lot of people have), but at least they showed up.