CNN’s Facts First Ad Highlights the Need for Transparency in Journalism

When powerful figures try to dissuade the public from learning the truth, facts matter. A new CNN ad attempts to make this point with fruit (yes, you read that correctly). “This is an apple,” text underneath a shiny red apple reads. As an image of an apple continues to show, the text and voiceover explain that, no matter how hard some people might try to convince you are looking at a banana, the fruit in question remains an apple.

The ad is obviously, and perhaps quite smartly, targeted at U.S. President Donald Trump. Since his days on the campaign trail, Trump has consistently made claims at odds with the truth. Daniel Dale, the Toronto Star’s Washington Correspondent, fact-checks Trump. The sheer number of inaccuracies is startling—most recently, Trump broke what Dale called “his one-week record for dishonesty,” making 57 false claims.

In a literal sense, there is nothing but the truth—our world is made up of scientific, real truths. But our own biases and perceptions may mean that we all have different truths, even when data tells us differently.

It is this that, in my mind, complicates CNN’s ad. Yes, the fruit in the image is an apple. But if enough people begin to say it is a banana, doesn’t it kind of become a banana? If everyone believes it is a banana, does it matter that it is really and truly classified as an apple?

In Trump’s presidency we’ve seen, for instance, him employ rhetoric insisting that Muslim people are dangerous and should not be allowed into the country. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter that the data shows that “more Americans have been killed by white American men with no connection to Islam than by Muslim terrorists or foreigners,” as Vox reported. Trump says, over and over, that Muslim people are dangerous and pose a threat to American security—and despite the facts proving otherwise, some people believe him. We are looking at an apple, but some people are convinced it is a banana.

The premise of CNN’s ad is correct: facts matter. But more and more, we are seeing that they might not matter to an alarming number of people. As I’ve already written, emotions, biases and perceptions can impact what we believe to be true. That right-wing media on his side are further perpetuating incorrect ideas about Muslim people only helps Trump’s case in convincing people of something that is not true.

But while some of us see sites like Breitbart and InfoWars as those perpetrators of false ideas and stereotypes, it’s important to remember that many people see centre and more left-leaning media organizations in this way, too. No media organization is perfect. I think it’s crucial to remember the role that journalists and media played in helping to elect Trump; both by giving his rhetoric sensationalized coverage, and by overplaying stories about Hillary Clinton such as her email scandal.

Still, the fact remains that many people see CNN and other similar news organizations as—to borrow one of Trump’s favourite terms—“fake news.” CNN may be calling apples apples, but when a large number of people (influenced by powerful politicians and media outlets) believe those apples to be bananas, we have a severe disparity in opinions.

michal-grosicki-226082
This is an apple. Right? (Source)

I may just be a journalism student, but in my opinion, it’s no longer enough for media organizations to say, “This is the truth—this is an apple and you should believe us because we are honest and value facts.” Some level of public skepticism in journalism is healthy (it is, after all, an imperfect institution). However, a recent poll suggests that 46% of Americans believe Trump when he says that major news outlets make up stories about him. As journalists, we need to do more to show the public why they can trust us, instead of just stating that that trust should exist.

One way that I see this happening is by creating a culture of transparency in journalism. I see a lot of news organizations taking steps towards this already. The Toronto Star, for example, launched a “Trust Project” to take readers behind the scenes of the newspaper.

These articles from the Star show how certain reporters take on their responsibilities, and even things like how the paper chooses when to publish a breaking news story, how they write headlines and how they correct mistakes. It’s hard to call something from the Star “fake news” when you read about the actual processes they use to ensure accuracy. This model of writing about the inner workings of the paper is enlightening to readers.

More transparency about how journalism is done can show the public why they should trust journalists when we say that an apple is, in fact, an apple. This is all not to say that CNN’s apple campaign is for naught, however. The ad is engaging in its simplicity and, if this lengthy post shows anything, it is certainly a conversation starter about facts and public trust in journalism. I hope that we continue to have these conversations as both producers and consumers of the news, because CNN is right—no matter how many times someone screams “BANANA” at an apple, the truth matters.


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Look What You Made Me Do

“I don’t like your little games,” Taylor Swift sings in the opening of her brand new single Look What You Made Me Do. She continues, “Don’t like your tilted stage. The role you made me play. Of the fool, no, I don’t like you.” I had speculated that this single, the first off her new album Reputation, dropping November 10th, would be like this; different, dark and directed at the people who she perceives to have wronged her in the past few years.

What I didn’t expect, though, was how vengeful the song would be (maybe I didn’t read closely enough into the snake images posted on her Instagram). The “you” in the song seems ambiguous; it could be Kanye West, who toured on a “tilted stage,” or Kim Kardashian, who leaked a phone call between Taylor and Kanye over a dispute about a lyric in one of Kanye’s songs. It could also refer to Katy Perry, who also publicly feuded with Taylor over dancers leaving her tour. But “you” could also mean a more conglomerate group; the media in general, perhaps, or even the general public. Look what all of these people say about me, look at the hate that I endure, she could be singing; I had no choice but to fire back in this song. Look what you made me do.

I have to wonder: does it matter who the song is about? To many people, the answer is yes. I suppose I’m undecided. I don’t want to enjoy the song because it’s adding fuel to the fire of Taylor’s celebrity fights. I want to enjoy it because it sends the message that if, for whatever reason, you feel knocked down by something, you can use that as motivation to come back and be stronger than ever. This is embodied in the lyrics, “But I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time. Honey, I rose up from the dead, I do it all the time.” To me, the entire premise of the song is that her past struggles have “made” her come back and release what already looks to be a successful single.

I worry that for young Taylor Swift fans, though, that message could be misconstrued. Because, following those emboldening lines about rising from the dead are these lyrics: “I’ve got a list of names and yours is in red underlined.” Those words seem to suggest that if you don’t like someone, you should publicly announce it and act in retaliation; get revenge instead of trying to come to a mutual agreement and heal your wounds. I hope that listeners, especially young ones, can look past the drama and bad blood (see what I did there?) and see that the song has an empowering message.

But maybe that is the point—that many members of the media and many people in society simply can’t look past the drama. We say we don’t care, but we can’t look away from the headlines, the gossip and the snarky social media posts. Taylor’s drama with Kanye, Kim and Katy would almost certainly not have reached the levels it did had it not played out in the news for everyone to watch. And that damage, real or perceived, to Taylor’s “good girl” image, may very well be the driving force behind this single and this new era of music for Taylor.

Even in the songs from 1989, her last album, she seemed willing to challenge that label of the innocent, golden girl. I wonder now if she’s throwing it out the window entirely. I’m inclined to believe her when she sings, “I’m sorry, the old Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Oh ‘cause she’s dead!” In each of her albums so far, Taylor has experimented with new sounds and new themes. She successfully crossed the line from country to pop, shedding her skin like the snake on her Instagram. Taylor Swift is no stranger at reinventing herself, doing so in the public eye, therefore altering her—wait for it—reputation.

Still, despite the fact that she consistently sheds her skin, so to speak, the theme of rising above negativity or hatred is nothing new for Taylor Swift. Take, for example, the first single from her last album. In Shake It Off, she sings about “what people say”that she stays out too late, has nothing in her brain and “goes on too many dates” but “can’t make them stay.” She counters these claims by singing that the haters are, well, gonna hate; and that she’s just gonna shake it off.

An even earlier version of this comes from Taylor’s song Mean from her album Speak Now. In that song, she hits back at a music critic who said that she couldn’t sing. The chorus goes, “Someday, I’ll be living in a big old city, and all you’re ever gonna be is mean. Someday, I’ll be big enough that you can’t hit me and all you’re ever gonna be is mean. Why you gotta be so mean?”

Those songs, though, seem to fight back against people who are just plain mean, not people with whom you’ve been engaged in a two-way argument. So does the song send the message that if you are fighting with someone, you should publicly declare your dislike for them and make it clear that you’re seeking revenge? Or does it send the message that you can rise above actions that hurt you and be successful despite what you’ve endured?

It’s open to interpretation, really; but one thing is for certain. If you don’t like this song, Taylor Swift isn’t interested. After all, “you” made her do this—and I have a feeling that this single is just the first nail in the coffin. Welcome to the Reputation era. Enjoying your stay so far?


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Being a Journalism Student in the Age of Trump

It was the day of my journalism orientation, and I was sitting with new friends in an unfamiliar building. Professors spoke, imparting words of wisdom to their new pupils. One professor said something that I immediately jotted down in a notebook, and have thought of often since that day: “Afflict the comfortable.”

Those three words opened my eyes to a purpose of journalism that I hadn’t previously considered: that journalists are watchdogs, reporting on those in power (those who are “comfortable”) in a truthful and accurate manner. This role of journalists has always been a pillar of democracy; and it has become even more crucial in recent years, months, and even days, as Donald Trump campaigned, won the Electoral College, and was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America.

Here are just two recent events that come to mind when I think of journalists and Trump: his refusal to take a question from CNN at his press conference, referring to the network as “fake news”, and Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s comments wherein he told reporters what to write and used journalists as “hate objects.”

Trump said that he has a “running war with the media.” I think he has a running war with the truth, and the fact that some journalists and news organizations are calling him out on his lies makes it easy for him to confuse the media and the truth. This has paved the way for his comments about fake news. If Trump disagrees with a story, then it is fake news (and fake news, according to Trump, is a “TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT” — never mind that many people who create fake news do it for the money, not for the sake of targeting anyone).

Journalism is not perfect; but as a journalism student, I’ve learned that good journalists are committed to learning how to improve and accurately cover what is happening. I am inspired by the journalists who are committed to having honest conversations about the profession, about what is working and what isn’t.

On every level, the discussions I have heard about Buzzfeed’s decision to publish the dossier about Trump — from conversations in my journalism classes to conversations I watched unfold between established journalists on Twitter — are fascinating. These discussions point to the willingness of journalists to learn and improve their abilities, while remaining committed to the principle of accuracy.

Being a journalism student in the age of Trump means a lot of good discussions and valuable learning experiences. But it also means preparing for a profession which the President of the United States of America frequently bashes, and one in which the public does not have a great deal of trust.

And yet I know that for myself, and many of my peers, these things do not discourage us: they motivate us to be more committed than ever to our decision to pursue journalism. We are committed to report accurately, to be watchdogs, and to stand up for the truth. The same can be said of the countless working journalists who refuse to back away from the present-day challenges of journalism.

“Thank you very much. Good luck,” Barack Obama said at his final press conference as President. When I read this in the newspaper, it made me tear up, because it really set the stage for what was coming: a time when luck was needed for journalists. (Journalism has always been a challenging profession. But when the President refuses to take questions from certain outlets, doesn’t even hold a press conference for months after he is elected… it is a different kind of challenge.)

Much ado has been made about Obama telling journalists “Good luck”; I want to focus on the former part of his statement. Obama thanked journalists, and I want to thank journalists, too. Thank you for doing what is right, even though it is not always easy. You have a new generation of journalism students who look up to you, and who are eager to join you in afflicting the comfortable, being watchdogs and, most importantly: being journalists.


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The Tweets Before the Storm

There’s supposed to be a huge winter storm where I live. The only problem? So far there’s not even a grey cloud in the sky, much less any signs of an impending blizzard. As an avid fan of storms – and an eager Canadian wishing for snow – I’ve been checking Environment Canada’s website regularly for updates on the storm. I’ve also been checking Twitter, as I typically do when I’m curious about a storm.

I think Twitter is a fascinating source of news. When I searched for the storm, I found Tweets not just from meteorologists but from everyday people. In a manner of seconds, simply through scrolling through search results I was able to gain a wide variety of perspectives on the storm. What makes Twitter so interesting is that not all of the information I received was from a “real” journalist.

I put the word “real” in quotations because what even is a journalist? According to Merriam Webster, a journalist is a “writer or editor for a news medium”. By that definition, Twitter users are not journalists (unless they happen to work for a newspaper or medium). There’s a second definition, though; one that I think is far more accurate. A journalist is “a writer who aims at a mass audience.” This definition sums up Twitter users. The people Tweeting about the winter storm may not have intended to aim their Tweet at a mass audience. However, by typing 140 characters and pressing ‘Tweet’ (and having their account set to public) those people shared their words with the world and became journalists. Or did they?

In the time I’ve spent so far writing this blog post, three more Tweets have been posted about the storm. One was from the official Twitter of a local city. The other two were from citizens who, from the bios listed on their profiles, are not journalists in the typical sense of the word.

Is anyone who communicates information a journalist? Does the information have to be aimed at a “mass audience”, as Merriam Webster’s definition of a journalist hints that it does? I’m tempted to say no to the second question because you could be a bona fide journalist and have a small audience. I think what the phrase “mass audience” is trying to convey is simply having some type of audience. Journalists communicate information for someone to read; even, in my opinion, if it’s a small audience.

That first question is a little more complex. Journalist is a job title. People – me, next year! – go to university to gain the knowledge to pursue journalism as a career. Because of this, it could be unfair to proclaim that anyone with a Twitter account and a Wifi connection is a journalist. At the same time, though, people who use Twitter in a “journalistic manner” (sharing facts, and their opinions and thoughts) aren’t necessarily trying to be journalists. They’re simply trying to communicate information, something humans have been doing since long before Twitter was invented.

So does it really matter whether people using Twitter are technically journalists? It doesn’t, really. To me, it’s simply important to acknowledge that in this day and age anyone can share information with the click of a few buttons. I don’t think this replaces society’s need for journalists, because if anything it creates more people who are willing to share their thoughts. This contributes to a more democratic society – and one where citizens are more informed about the supposed winter storm coming their way.

What do you think?

The Problem With It Was Never A Dress

“So what?”

This was my initial reaction to the now-viral campaign It Was Never A Dress. The campaign redefines the female washroom symbol, which was previously assumed as a figure wearing a dress. According to this new information, it was never a dress. It was always, in fact, a cape.

itwasneveradress
image credits to itwasneveradress.com

People on the internet are celebrating the newfound notion of the symbol showing a woman in a cape, not a dress. But wait, hold on a second… why was a woman in a dress not good enough? The fact that this had to be changed suggests women are not good enough the way we are, and not strong enough wearing a symbol of femininity.

Think of the female washroom sign – back when everyone thought it was simply a dress – as a metaphor for women. We’ve gone along, in our dresses or whatever we were wearing, fighting for our rights and being awesome. Then It Was Never A Dress comes along and says that we’re not good enough the way we are, and that we need to have our images reinvented in people’s minds in order to be better at being women.

Furthermore, there’s what the dress was replaced with (or what women are being told they need to be more like in order to be better): a cape.

Why is the image of a woman in a cape stronger than the image of a woman in a dress?

A troubling answer: because capes are typically worn by male superheroes, and often symbolize masculine strength.

The people who are delighted at the cape-wearing woman (instead of the dress-wearing woman) are inadvertently saying that females are stronger and better when they are masculine and embody masculine traits. So what I’m getting from It Was Never A Dress is that women are not good enough the way we are – and if we put on a symbol of masculinity, we are better.

According to their website, It Was Never A Dress is “an invitation to shift perceptions and make assumptions about women and the audacious, sensitive, and powerful gestures they make every single day.”

That sentence puts up red flags for me. An invitation to make assumptions about women? That can’t have been what they meant, because it implies an open invitation to assume negative things about women. This should be what the campaign is trying to avoid.

And yet, It Was Never A Dress is, to me, perpetuating a bold (and horribly misled) assumption: that to be strong, women need to be masculine.

Throughout history, women have had to fight for our right to be recognized as equals to men. Today, in the 21st century, we are still fighting for this. We are not going to reach a point of total and complete gender equality by telling women that the way for them to be strong is by being like men.

We don’t need a new perspective on the symbol on our washroom door to tell us that women are strong; we are already strong. And without misleading campaigns like this one, we would be even stronger.

Nepal earthquake: on being aware of world news

Last night, I was talking with my dad about problems in the Middle East and we also got on the topic of the earthquakes in Nepal. On Saturday, a 7.8 magnitude Earthquake struck near the city of Pokhara and since then the death toll has risen to over 4000 with subsequent aftershocks and avalanches. As we were in the middle of discussing this, someone walked in and said, “there was an Earthquake in Nepal?!”

I’m always shocked when people haven’t heard of what’s going on in the news, and this was no exception. Since the earthquake first hit on the weekend, it has been trending on Twitter and Facebook, and splashed across the front of newspapers and online news sources.  That person doesn’t use any of those things, so it made sense that he hadn’t heard of it.

It is generally regarded as a good thing to be aware of what is going on in the world. This incident led me to wonder why this is.

One benefit of knowing what is happening in the news is that it puts you in a position to make a difference. There are a multitude of relief funds set up for Nepal; however, one would have to know about the disaster before they would consider providing disaster relief.

Knowing what is happening in other parts of the world also helps you to gain a better appreciation for your life. Being aware of danger in other places makes you feel thankful that you are safe. This feeling of gratefulness for your own life can improve your overall happiness and satisfaction – and it can also make you more likely to donate to the relief funds.

The other thing is that for the people living through the tragedy, an important part of their healing is sharing their story. They are grieving the loss of their families, friends, neighborhoods and monuments; they deserve to have the world listen to them, and offer its sympathies. Out of a disaster like this one are stories that need to be told; so people need to listen.

But is listening really enough? I am compelled to say that it is. Yes, simply reading a news article about the earthquakes in Nepal doesn’t directly help the people suffering there. It doesn’t give money towards aid, and it doesn’t comfort a grieving family. What it does do, though, is let the people in Nepal know that there are people across the world who care about them, and their story; and in times of suffering this is a small light, but a light nonetheless (especially when sympathy is often shared through various forms of social media).

There is of course, as there always is, another side to this. I have read many posts by bloggers who have taken a break from reading the news because it adds too much stress to their lives. There is not only the stress caused by the actual content of the news – natural disasters, senseless deaths, injustices and wars – but also the stress of keeping up with everything that is happening.

Social media has made this easy – a quick glance at the ‘Trending’ list on Twitter can usually give a pretty good snapshot of what people are talking about and what is happening in the world. However, staying updated through countless new articles and videos takes its toll; and it can feel necessary at times, because you can feel as though it is your duty to “listen” to the story of the event.

Sometimes, looking at the news can be downright depressing. It’s a trap which, unfortunately, is easy to fall into: looking at all of the horrible things happening in the world, and thinking that all hope for humanity is lost and there’s no point in trying to save it. When you don’t look at what is happening around the world, you can live in your own happy reality. This is a common reason why many people have decided it is not a good thing to be aware of what is happening in the news.

The counter argument to this is that if someone is living in their own bubble of their personal happy reality, they are being blatantly naive because bad things are happening. If everyone ignores the news to avoid the bad things that are happening, then nothing will be done about those things. An issue has to be acknowledged before it can be solved, or made better.

The question I strived to answer in this post was: is it a good thing to be aware of what is happening in the world?

I have come to the conclusion that it is different for every person. For me personally, it is a good thing. As an aspiring journalist and lover of anything with a story attached, staying updated on the news is necessary. I do sometimes feel stressed by the horrid things happening; but I try to translate those emotions into my writing (hence this post).

For other people, staying updated on the news is not a good thing. For them it is a source of distress, and it can create a “false sense of disaster”, like when people were freaking out about Ebola and they had never travelled to any of the affected regions.

The bottom line is that bad things happen whether we read news articles about them or not. If we read the articles about the bad things, though, we then at least have the opportunity to try to make a difference.

The Hanging Tree, and Hope

I absolutely adore Jennifer Lawrence. So I felt kind of bad when I downloaded The Hanging Tree, which she sings and is featured in Mockingjay Part One, because I had read online that she cried while filming the scene it is in because she hates singing. But I loved the song, so I couldn’t help myself.

When I first saw Mockingjay, I got chills when this song came on. The haunting melody is captivating, and so is the idea of the rebellion that the movie focuses on. Part way through the song, Jennifer’s voice is replaced with more voices; those of the people from the districts who are rebelling.

The rebellion is vehemently opposed by the Capitol; yet people rebel anyways. I’m sure they still fear the Capitol – because, really, how could they not fear a government that sends people away to fight for their deaths? – but they have something stronger than their fear: their hope of the freedom that they would get if the rebellion was successful.

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Credits: Suzanne Collins and Pinterest

I love this quote because it rings true to so many aspects of life. We all have dreams, but we are all sometimes plagued by fear. Often, this is a fear of failure. We can overcome this fear by making our hope of success stronger. I believe that when your hope of success is greater than your fear of failure, you will be successful.

Hope is so powerful. As we see in The Hunger Games books and movies, hope can unite people together to fight for what they believe in and what they are hoping for. Hope is the one ray of sunlight in an otherwise dark room – and the more people who hope, the more rays of light illuminate the darkness.

An individual’s hope can be equally as powerful as a groups’, too. We see this in The Hunger Games as well; through Katniss’s actions in defying the Capitol’s wishes she shows that she has hope for a better life. At the end of The Hunger Games, Katniss pretends to eat poisonous berries along with her fellow tribute Peeta. If they both die, the Capitol will have no winner: so the Capitol is forced to intervene and declare both Katniss and Peeta the winners.

Katniss’s fear in that situation was strong – she was literally seconds away from ending her life in an attempt to defy the Capitol – but her hope that both Peeta and her could survive was stronger. In the end, her hope is what prevailed and this made her fear and bravery worth it.

A lyric in the song The Hanging Tree is, “wear a necklace of hope// side by side with me.” If we all wore a necklace of hope, we could abolish fear and make a difference in the world.

What To Do When Superman Doesn’t Save the Day

For a long time in history, movies have been used as a method of escapism. In the 1920’s (aka the era of flappers and jazz music) “talkies” were an obvious form of escapism. Hence, as one world war ended, another one was beginning and some people were too glued to the screen to notice.

1920s movie theatre (source)
1920s movie theatre (source)

Sometimes I wonder if a similar phenomenon, if you can call it that, is happening now. I was at a movie theatre a few weeks ago and I noticed that the sign outside the theatre said: “Your escape starts at 7:25.” The word ‘escape’ obviously referred to people using the movies to escape from their lives.

It is great that art can provide an escape for people. Songs, movies, TV shows, and poems (just to name a few) can help people get through difficult times, by describing their situation in lyrics or offering inspiration. With this being said, though, I don’t think this kind of escapism actually resolves a person’s problems.

Increasingly, we are seeing movies that mimic real-life situations and issues. Still though, there is a huge difference between a movie about an issue, and the real issue. We’re escaping into art that mimics life, but the reality is that watching a documentary about environment collapsing isn’t the same as doing something about it (though documentaries do often inspire people to do something about it!).

I think that part of the reason more people don’t do something about issues such as the environment isn’t because they are incapable (because in reality, we are all capable of making a change), or unmotivated. I think it is because we expect someone else to do it.

We see it all the time in movies; a hero comes in and saves the day. Although this hero has often overcome adversity (allowing us to relate to the character), they have often been “made the hero” because of another factor – for example, a prophecy, magic, or super powers from an alien planet.

We expect Superman to save the day. (source)
We expect Superman to save the day. (image source)

We are so familiar with heroes saving the world in movies that we expect them to do the same for the offscreen world. This is a huge part of the problem, because a man in a cape isn’t going to swoop down from the sky and make the world a better place. When we escape into movies, we can deceive ourselves into thinking this is the case.

If we must use movies to escape, then we should look at them with a critical eye. There are huge parallels between movies and real life. If we can look at how a certain problem is solved in a movie it might give us ideas about solving it in real life.

However, typically the solution to the problem in a movie is a hero. So what do you do when Superman doesn’t save the day?

Be your own hero. Step up, and save the day in whatever way possible. I believe if we all did this, the world would mirror the movies in that maybe we would have a happy ending.

Dear Writers: The World Needs Your Voice

Dear fellow writers,

In light of recent events, you may question the worth in sharing your voice. As a writer you know that it is important to give your opinion; however, as both a writer and a human you also value your life. Today is a sad day, because writers, artists, and humans around the world have been sent a clear message: you cannot always value your life, while giving your opinion.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Throughout history, writers have faced adversity for speaking and writing their minds. The “frontiers” that are faced are sometimes not those bound by law. Sometimes, they are those bound by a group of people. Today we saw lives lost because of a frontier which discouraged the freedom of speech in satirical writing and cartoons.

To some extent, it was known that this frontier existed. To some extent now some writers and artists feel that this frontier is preventing them from expressing their thoughts. However, as per the aforementioned Declaration, everyone has a right to freely express their opinion and their ideas – regardless of frontiers.

Do not let any frontier – any barrier, any person, any group of people – hold you back from sharing your words. The world needs your words. We need your voice. We need you. Martin Luther King Junior said that “our lives begin to end the day we are silent about the things that matter.”

We cannot let this horrible tragedy become a frontier for us. This is an instance where silence does not speak louder than words. Silence means we are stopping when we hit the barrier. Silence means we are accepting the frontier that threatens our freedom of speech and opinion. But words… words mean we are breaking down the frontier. Your words matter.

Sherina

Changing the World, One Tweet at a Time

I recently joined Twitter, and am striving to become proficient in the language of hashtags so that I can use my account for more than following the journey of John Green’s Paper Towns.

I caught the tail end of it, but thanks to his frequent tweets  I feel like I’ve been filming right alongside him the entire time.
I caught the tail end of it, but thanks to his frequent tweets I feel like I’ve been filming right alongside him the entire time.

Even when I didn’t have twitter, I was exposed to hashtags. They have made a transition from the little “trends” bar at the side of the twitter homepage to internet headlines, t-shirts, the front page of newspapers, and protest signs. Hashtags are no longer just for tweeting your thoughts on the movie you just saw or following cleverly coined weather phrases (#santabomb, I’m talking to you). They are for social movements.

Hashtags have always mimicked the real world, but as of late they have had a direct influence on it. #illridewithyou, a hashtag to reach out to people in religious attire who didn’t feel safe taking public transportation after it was reported that the gunman who was holding hostages in a cafe in Australia was Muslim, resulted in people actually riding with Muslim people. It was not only a show of support, but it also led to, real life actions that had a positive impact.

Hashtag activism (defined by PBS newshour as “a term coined to describe the use of viral hashtags to raise awareness and foster discussion about specific issues and causes via social media), also called by some “slacktivism” doesn’t always result in things happening in real life, though. Some people tweet their support of things and assume that they have fixed the problem simply by tweeting using a trending hashtag representing a social movement.

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I’ve come to wonder about “slacktivism”. The term is often referred to in a negative light, but can tweeting something with a hashtag really make a difference?

Well, for one thing, it educates people about the cause. Before I saw the #illridewithyou movement, I hadn’t even considered that innocent Muslim people might face backlash. The hashtag broadened my perspective on the issue, and alerted me to the other side of what was happening. Twitter is essentially another news outlet, just one where the news isn’t a lengthy print article but instead 140 characters. It is able to give a wide range of perspectives, since it is used by people from all over the world.

Trending hashtags draw people’s attention to a cause that they otherwise might not have known about. For example, this summer’s sweeping #alsicebucketchallenge, where people nominated their friends to dump a bucket of ice water on their heads to raise awareness for ALS disease and donate to the cause. Over $100 million was raised from this viral challenge – money that came from people who donated to the cause because of the hashtag campaign inspiring them to do so and who might not have donated otherwise.

(Image from marketingland.com)
(Image from marketingland.com)

One problem with social media activism is that it enforces the mentality that all change can be effected online, and that nothing needs to be done in real life to make a difference. As #illridewithyou and the ALS ice bucket challenge show, tweeting support for a cause can make a difference. However, showing support for a cause through actions is a different thing, and one that has become buried in hashtags and online activism.

If all of the world’s problems could be fixed through tweeting about them, then we would be living in utopia. However, we are not; so clearly, twitter isn’t the only answer here. As Dave Ramsey puts, it “when actions meet compassion, lives change.”

Thanks to hashtags showing us what is happening, and all of the perspectives involved, people can become more educated about what is happening. This knowledge can then help people to be more understanding and compassionate. It that compassion can be combined with actions, then change can be effected and lives (and the world) can be changed for the better.

What is your opinion on hashtag activism?