Welcome to the social web, a wonderful world of pure democracy where you and I are in charge. ‘Bottom up’ organisations where it is us, the masses, that make decisions for those up top. Grassroots campaigns through which you can fight huge faceless corporations. The modern web empowers us like never before to air our grievances, fight for what we think is right, and to save chocolate bars from a bygone age. It’s so easy; All you need is a computer, a susceptible mind, and an easily jerked knee.
The problem is, internet activism is so much easier than ‘real’ activism. It takes barely any effort to tick a box and register your support to a campaign, or to ‘retweet’ someone else’s observation or damning statement. Yet we’re supposed to consider the huge amount of statistics these polls, lists and virtual signatures amass to as worthy as a traditional march or picketing would have been. In the olden times, people really had to make an effort to stand up for things. Would a modern day Emily Pankhurst have really won the vote for women from a Facebook Group? Would Martin Luther King have had as much success in his fight for civil rights with a particularly memorable hashtag for his Twitter campaign?
I was talking to a teenager today. That’s right, an actual youth of Broken Britain. It wasn’t as terrifying an experience as you might have thought though. For starters, he didn’t speak in that bizarre faux-patois accent that Young White Middle Englanders seem to have adopted, and so I was able to understand him enough to use the usual line of questioning I follow with anybody under 25 that I meet these days. Questions about school, pop stars, films and, since the project I did with Max Gadney about ‘Young People and News’ some years ago, about the internet. It turned out this particular youngster wasn’t as enamored with Facebook and the social media revolution as case studies frequently suggest. It didn’t seem to bother him that much. In fact, neither did films or pop stars despite my suggesting all the really cool and violent ones he should perhaps ‘Google’. If he actually used the internet at all. Anyway, none of this is really helping my point. I wanted to talk about young people who are keen internet users and Facebook status updaters. The conversation with young Jake really served no purpose other than it got me thinking about what I’d be like now as a teenager, and how I’d get in all kinds of trouble based on stuff I write on the internet.