Social media and freedom of speech have made it possible for us to broadcast just about anything to the public. Scroll through your social media platform of choice at any given moment, and you can find posts that run the gamut from puppy photos to political rants and beyond.
This social phenomenon has its drawbacks – try going to dinner with a group of millennials and their iPhones. However, there is an upside to the Post-Everything-You’re-Thinking behavior: Social media is a great facilitator for discussion and interaction with the media.
I am lucky enough to be part of Internet communities filled with friends who care about social issues, feminism, and musical theatre (among other things). I can always find a good meme about the Hobby Lobby ruling or a silly discussion of the upcoming Into the Woods movie in my newsfeed, and I’m not complaining about that.
I have to be honest though. Some of my fellow Internet activists have their work cut out for them when it comes to their social networking rants, namely those critiquing pop culture. Sometimes, I’ll agree with someone’s perspective but absolutely loathe how they go about articulating it.
I personally take issue with anyone using their keyboard and free speech to complain without offering solutions – obviously, or else I would write for Everyday Feminism, where the entire focus is on application of theory. I’ll try not to be a hypocrite, then, and offer some ideas to keep in mind the next time you need to type out a diatribe about the latest media sensation:
1. Social Activism Is Laced with Privilege
Not everyone can afford a liberal arts education. Not everyone is as literate as you are. Not everyone can rattle off definitions for feminist buzzwords at the drop of a hat. There will always be someone who hasn’t had it as easy as you due to circumstances out of anybody’s control. This applies both to your audience and to the artists you wish to critique.
The academia of activism has made movements like feminism less accessible to the general public. Complicated jargon and general snobbery can leave a bitter taste in anybody’s mouth, even a potential allies. This isn’t the first or the last time I’ll make this point.
Here’s another way to think about it:
If you’ve ever taken a theatre class, you’ve probably had to play a warm-up game where you make eye contact with a classmate and throw them a ball from across the room. Sure, performers aren’t typically the most proficient athletes, but the point of the exercise is this: You have to throw a ball that your partner can catch.
If you throw curveballs and fastballs, you’re setting your partner up to fail. They won’t catch the ball, so it doesn’t matter how much technique you put into throwing it.
Think of the ball-throwing activity when you write out your next status update/essay about whatever the kids are talking about these days.
You need to write material that your audience can easily understand and absorb, and you need to check your privilege. I don’t care about your ten-dollar words and your credentials if they get in the way of your point.
2. Take the Time to Understand the Material You Dissect
I kid you not, I have seen online friends rip into articles from The Onion, thinking that it is a legitimate news publication. Obviously, that is an extreme lack of understanding, but you should learn from those mistakes. Your self-preservation instinct will serve you here: You don’t want to look stupid.
If you’re going to put in the effort to criticize a piece of media, you should study it first.
That could mean researching other material by the same artist, looking up the lyrics, rewatching the YouTube clip, and/or considering the source where you found the content.
Knee-jerk reactions lead to ill-informed responses that are often articulated poorly. Readers can usually tell whether or not you’ve really done your homework. Your response will have greater clarity and a stronger response if you put in time, research, and thought before hitting “Send,” “Comment,” or “Tweet.”
This is why I generally wait until social media calms down before I jump on any pop-cultural bandwagon. I don’t want to be swayed by others’ hastily constructed opinions of their first impression. I just want to take in the material.
Taking your time to research and think will calm the pressures of “Oh, everyone’s talking about it now! I need to rush and put in my two cents!” I hate to break it to you, but there probably aren’t too many people clamoring to read your status updates anyway, no matter how well thought-out they may be.
Bottom line: If you’re going to use your time and your readers’ time by posting your perspective, you really should take the time to get to know the material you want to analyze.
3. Make Your Post Palatable
Before I go any further, I am already bracing myself for the hordes of e-feminists who love the phrase “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” I agree with you. There is so much injustice that absolutely warrants anger. I do not want to police your tone or your feelings.
I’m just saying that if you want people to listen to your opinion, you have to package it well.
Have you ever seen those Voss water bottles? They sell like crazy, and it’s not just because water is healthy. It’s because the bottle is sleek, unique, and beautiful. On top of that, the company makes its consumers feel good about themselves by making them feel like their water purchase is a humanitarian effort.
I’m not saying you should start a white-savior-y company or sell artesian water via status update. You can learn from a Voss water bottle by making your social media posts fit these vague guidelines:
- Sleek. Organize your writing so that your point comes across succinctly. Make sure your writing is broken up into bite-size pieces, and cut out anything unnecessary. Gigantic blocks of disorganized text are migraine-inducing.
- Unique. If you don’t have anything fresh or new to say, you don’t need to say anything. Someone’s already said it for you. Make sure your perspective or thought process is unlike anything you’ve seen around your newsfeed.
- Beautiful. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Use what makes you and your voice beautiful by using language thoughtfully, incorporating humor (if that’s your style), or displaying the bravery to honestly open up to anyone reading. Use a range of intensity and emotion rather than going full-caps-lock-anger the entire time. For example, “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette is an angry song, but its power comes from the changing dynamics and tactics throughout the music and lyrics. Compose your status updates with balance and resolution.
- Empowering. Make your readers feel informed. Give them an opportunity to make a difference. Let them know that they are not alone. Tell them you want to hear their opinions. Get your audience involved in some way. Remember that posting anything on social media is sharing. Sharing is an interaction between two parties, not a soliloquy. There are people on the other end of your posts, and they want to feel included.
If you’re angry, be angry. Is there anything more anger-inducing than oppression? Hmm, not really. But even in anger, you can make clear points – if, of course, that’s your goal in the first place. Sometimes it’s not, and that’s okay, too.
4. Make Room for Directly Affected Voices
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen lengthy Facebook threads about women’s issues with only upper-class-white-dudes writing in the comments who then they get pissy when that fact is pointed out to them!
Oh, and don’t get me started on all the straight cis people lauding that Arcade Fire music video, calling it “Revolutionary,” and patting themselves on the back for being sooo progressive (facepalm).
Again, these are extreme examples, but they are groan-worthy for the same reason: The posters and commenters are using their voices with decent intentions, but they are absolutely not opening up the discussion to pertinent groups of people.
Furthermore, these discussions can sometimes spiral in a way that the affected groups may feel pushed away from participating altogether.
If you want to discuss rape culture’s effect on our media, you should listen to and be considerate of survivors of sexual assault. If you’re critiquing the representation of trans* women in film and television, your conversation should include actual trans* women. If you want to talk about fatphobia and body-shaming in the tabloids, thin people cannot and should not hold the floor.
See what I’m getting at here?
If there’s a comment section, there’s an opportunity for discussion. Be prepared to direct it in a way that makes all participants (but particularly marginalized ones) feel included and safe.
5. Variety Is Key
If there is a particular artist whose work compels you to write about them multiple times (cough, Robin Thicke, cough cough), you need to make sure you don’t sound like a broken record.
Also, make sure that you are spreading out your content.
I know that you have freedom of speech. I know that you care. And, trust me, I know you have many, many thoughts. I’m not trying to stifle you. I just don’t want you to bore or annoy your readers. This goes back to the idea of packaging your ideas.
Would you want to see the same commercial for Progressive Insurance repeated ten times in a row? No. You’d tune out, mute the television, or even change the channel. That is what your online friends will do to you if you constantly post repetitive rants about the media issue of the week.
Collect all your thoughts and put them into one clearly written post. If the news story develops, make your updated commentary later; you can even try to post about something entirely different in between to break up the monotony.
As you read this, I’m sure R. Kelly did something or Lady Gaga wore something or Iggy Azalea said something. I’m willing to bet that once you exit your Everyday Feminism tab, some pop culture event will be plastered all over your social networking platforms.
Think before you post. Read that sentence one more time. Oh, and if you’re going to comment on this piece, I would give the same advice.
Think. Before. You. Post.
It’s the least you can do.
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Maddie McClouskey is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She’s a twenty-something lesbian in New York City and currently writes weekly dating advice pieces for the LGBTQ event app and website SheSeekOnline and was a regular contributor to the sexuality and feminism site ToughxCookies. When she’s not writing articles about gayness, she’s performing stand-up comedy, singing show tunes to her girlfriend and dog against their will, or making up jokes for Twitter @SoundofMaddie. Read her articles here.