Internet Activism: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

It’s kind of surreal to see your school as the #1 trend on Facebook.

But last Wednesday and Thursday, that was the reality for us students at Ithaca College to see a grassroots movement of students of color explode into national media attention.

Not only has the internet been a powerful tool for crowdsourcing and gaining knowledge for independent media outlets and giving voice to those who are often voiceless, the PoC at IC movement, the Concerned Student 1950 movement, any of the outcries against institutional racism that surfaced over the past few weeks would not have reached the level they did as quickly as they did without the internet. This has been even more prevalent over the past weekend with attacks in Paris, suicide bombings in Beirut, and deadly market bombings in Nigeria. This kind of news and responses from the audience is almost immediate in our world today – it’s critical to be constantly updating and publishing information because people expect to be able to know more.

Of course, support for movements and crises are often misguided. “Armchair activism” has become a rampant problem among many millennials who share, change their profile pictures or post a status and think they’ve done their share. With the media quickly honing in on our campus, it’s been an experience for many students to be able to physically show their support for something like PoC at IC in addition to fighting for the cause on social media platforms.

It’s been very interesting to see coverage from both traditional and independent media outlets. From CNN, The New York Times and the Washington Post to Mashable, Democracy Now!, Colorlines and beyond, it has been a somewhat surreal experience to be sitting in solidarity on the cold, damp ground of our main quad and mere hours later seeing the explosion of articles and videos featuring some of your closest friends.

And the internet, while a great outlet for sharing this message and gaining important attention, the internet also has its ugly side, and it has been rearing its head in response to students speaking their mind in a peaceful way on our college campus. As much as we have to be increasingly grateful for the immediacy of our ability to seek and gain knowledge, it’s frustrating to see aggression and hatred targeted at your own community, all accessible via the internet. From being called inmates at a daycare/insane asylum to threatening anonymous posts about student activists, all one has to do is look at the comments thread on any article written about the protests and see the people who choose to invalidate and make fun of students who are passionate about a social justice issue. While these media outlets have created an amazing platform to hear these voices of color, they are often frustratingly shot down and discounted by other users.

We have granted free speech for all on a platform that allows some of the greatest startups to occur, for true journalism to emerge and keep a check and balance on the government and the public, but in doing so, we allow those who disagree with us to speak as well, in any way they so choose.




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