Why You Should Rethink Who You Follow on Social Media
If you’re like me and you spend a lot of time on social media, this article is for you. Before we begin, let’s cut to the chase. Grandparents and the like may lament their grandkids’ profuse use of mobile technology (it seems that the once-dominant greeting: “You’ve gotten so big!” has been replaced with: “You’re still on that goshdarn phone of yours!”). While our grandparents may have a point, social media is here to stay. Rather than rejecting the revolutionary technology, we may as well learn to use it better. I’m always on a mission to do just that, and I invite you along for the ride.
An Impressive Example of Social Media Mobilization
Social media platforms, like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and even TikTok, have changed political and social landscapes. Just this past week, K-pop stans and TikTokers claimed they were “at least partially responsible” for undermining the success of Trump’s Tulsa rally. While social media platforms enable grassroots mobilization, they do much more. The emergence of social media spearheaded two important societal transitions. First, it increased the ability of marginalized voices to participate in the national conversation, and second, it led to a new approach as to how we think about community.
These two impacts of social media have fragmented existing power structures by breaking down traditional, one-way information flows that passed from the powerful to the less powerful. While we are witnessing a unique turning point that allows new voices to be heard, we as social media consumers are responsible for actively and intentionally choosing who’s content we consume.
The Democratization of the Media
When it comes to social media, democratization is the buzzword. Quickly summarized, the democratization of the media refers to the process by which traditionally marginalized communities increasingly participate in the consumption and production of media. Historically marginalized groups include (but are not excluded to) People of Color, women, queer folks, gender non-conforming folks, disabled folks, fat folks, and poor folks. By creating and uploading content, these groups participate in the shaping of culture.
Leo Braudy, Professor at the University of Southern California, states that “certain social groups” used to have “an exclusive right to call the tunes of glory” (think white, straight, cis-gendered, nondisabled, financially secure men). Through widespread access to the internet, “the older patterns of class and privilege have…lost their power,” to be replaced by one in which “ordinary people now have greater access to media representation.”
As democratization has taken place, so too has the transition from traditionally physical, local communities to international, virtual communities. While some online communities have their own website domains, many of these communities trickle onto social media. To participate, all one needs is the proper technology and an internet connection.
Makeup aficionados, wellness junkies, foodies, gamers, yogis, and social justice advocates are just a few of the online communities that immediately come to mind. I’ve even recently stumbled across a community of individuals who profess their love for sourdough bread, such as @sourdoughclub on Instagram, by posting various aesthetically-pleasing images of their delightfully airy loaves. Then there are the far-right conspiracy groups, such as QAnon, that believe Trump is here to save the world from destruction (I’m dead serious).
In defying traditional geographic boundaries, each of these communities is easily accessible and represents democratization. Whether you’re interested in makeup or wellness or food or gaming or yoga or social justice, you have the potential to create your own diverse and inclusive online community.
The Importance of Diversity in Your Feed
So why am I saying you should rethink your feed? To make it more diverse.
There are plenty of social justice activists from marginalized identities who openly share their work and their experiences, and who invite people to listen to their stories. In a society that oppresses these folks by limiting their ability to participate in politics, not only systemically but through systematic voter suppression, social media provides a platform for elevation. By following and listening to social justice activists who openly share their work, we learn how we uphold oppressive values and how to create change.
Is A Diverse Feed Enough?
No, but it’s a good first step.
Diversifying our feeds allows us to learn from the lived experiences of individuals with marginalized identities. Rather than continuing the demoralization and devaluation of marginalized communities, or pretending that the silent majority of “Americans” exists, it’s about time we regularly start hearing from the communities and cultures that we oppress and appropriate.
Diversity asks, “Who’s in the room?” Equity responds: “Who is trying to get in the room but can’t? Whose presence in the room is under constant threat of erasure?”
Diversity celebrates increases in numbers that still reflect minoritized status on campus and incremental growth. Equity celebrates reductions in harm, revisions to abusive systems and increases in supports for people’s life chances as reported by those who have been targeted.
In essence, diversity is just the first step in creating a more equitable and just society. Diverse social media feeds are a rejection of one-way information flows and a challenge to our physical, often non-diverse communities. As physical communities increasingly transform alongside virtual communities, we cannot underestimate the importance of diversifying our social media feeds.
So, Where to go From Here?
At this point, we reflect upon our own social media feeds. In doing so, we begin to understand how we interact with society and its oppressive values. Rethinking our feeds means questioning who we follow and why we follow them. Several influencers, often unintentionally, uphold dangerous and oppressive societal standards such as diet culture, fatphobia, gender binarism, and racism, while others actively seek to work against these oppressive norms.
The age of social media has undoubtedly provided unprecedented levels of democratization, but we must not underestimate our role in shaping our user experience. When human beings are systematically and systemically being denied fundamental human rights, we must listen, learn, and take action. We must normalize listening, learning, and taking action. Diversifying our feeds is just the beginning.
And remember, this is your fight too. Deconstructing oppressive structures is empowering.