Gromotka: Feeding our egos (and the trolls) online


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Activism today has taken a back seat to taking a seat.

With the exception of the unorganized mess we called the Occupy Movement, it appears that the days of collecting a group of people to take a stand, fill space, and change society — a widely successful protest tactic employed a half-century ago — have been replaced with counterproductive ranting and bickering on the Internet. Rather than operating as a tool for communication to better promote social progress, the web has become a breeding ground for egotistical maniacs — me included — to flex an angry verbal muscle at other egotistical maniacs with differing opinions.

The difference between Internet “activism” and actual activism lies in that, after an offensive article has been reposted and a snarky comment made, arguing on the Internet doesn’t really change anything. I only recently took notice of the issue; my Facebook feed has been flooded by feminists — whose hearts are definitely in the right place — sharing offensively misogynistic and bigoted articles about “Why You Should Date a Girl with an Eating Disorder” and “23 Trends Guys Hate.”

Another trend — one that peaked during the 2012 election and still makes its presence known from time to time — has been for users to digress into political “debate” in the comment section below a post about Obamacare or gun laws.

Here’s the paradox of Internet “activism”: an angry Facebooker protesting the existence of negative content by sharing and providing input is actually perpetuating the existence of such trolly content.

Playing right into this paradox, I clicked on one of those misogynistic articles to see what the fuss was about. A list (naturally — the Internet loves the ease of making lists) hosted on a page formatted in the default, drab blog style. Lower down on the page is a section for ranty comments, and even lower sits a banner powered by Google AdSense.

It was at this point that I realized it was a trap. If I share this post, it’ll cause more people to see it, share it with their friends, and generate money for something that looks to have taken 15 minutes to create.

Internet outrage does more than inflate the egos and wallets of trolls, however. It also gives uppity individuals the illusion that they’ve made a difference. If I like the Facebook page of a political group I disagree with to write negative comments on its wall, I’ve infiltrated the enemy stronghold. I brought the fight to them. I can rest easy knowing I’ve done my part in the fight against evil … or at least it feels that way. I haven’t really done anything. I’m an anonymous voice that carries very little persuasive weight, and I’ve given others reason to visit my opponent’s domain.

This isn’t all to discredit the Internet’s ability to stimulate social change. Writing an angry comment can at least get someone thinking about an issue. But true change comes when someone decides to do something. Students in Washington, D.C., protested against violence in Syria, proving that real activism can still exist in our cushy First World.

Even if you don’t want to hold a sign, you can actually create good with the Internet. Start your own blog and create positive content. Organize a rally or get a petition going. Thanks to the widespread use of the web, the opportunities to actually do something are more limitless than ever.

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