Social media continues to shine light on prolonged fights
Opinion Column: Open Season
In 2007, the notion that a child could become “emo” after prolonged exposure to the darkest corners of the Internet was enough to strike fear into the hearts of parents. Don’t believe me? The proof is in the pamphlets. So when we look back on this year, what cultural anxiety will stick out as what wrought parents with fear?
If you’ve felt the pushback too, it’s no mystery. Watching wide-eyed tourists speed walk out of Hell’s Kitchen might not be as obvious an indicator, but the slurs from moving cars are crystal clear. On the heels of Obergefell v. Hodges, anxiety over queer people can be found at just about every turn, from national debate to pizza-shop windows. But as a minority, social media continues to be our saving grace in a time of rapid, rapid change.
My personal favorite portion of Out Magazine is called “Things Gays Caused This Month.” Inside, you’ll find a slew of problems that gay people were accused of initiating this month, from all over the world — hurricanes, that E. coli outburst and low-return investments, included. But these queers refuse to be smeared. As LGBTs and our allies have demanded our rights, fear over our so-called influence was bound to rise. Five years ago, we weren’t talking about the transgender community. Now, Caitlyn Jenner is on the cover of Vanity Fair. It makes sense that this could make people uncomfortable. So our subcultures emerge to restore our sense of belonging in what feels even to us like an ever-changing landscape, politically and socially. Feeling represented and accounted for is important to anybody.
In the same way that racial and socio-economic differences created the initial divide between Facebook and MySpace, homophilly is rampant on social media today. In fact, the idea of homophilly is a notion that supports the existence of social media sites in the first place. A person determines who they are, and then they follow this account and read what people like them generally like to hear about. How convenient. We revel in the camaraderie of common interest, but it makes perfect sense. Why not have more labels, then, and more subcultures? More boxes mean more options to choose from, until you feel every facet of you has been neatly packaged for consumption.
Technologies like Twitter exist as an open forum for free expression. But, as so often happens, the social media site’s uses have not been stagnant, and as Twitter is hailed today as both a hub of “microblogging,” and beacon of hope for those who would otherwise be without a platform — as in Iran — the people who actually initiate said change are seen more and more as simple cogs in the Twitter Revolution. No one is doubting social media’s power to propel social justice issues to the forefront of the media. Remember Kony? But unlike in Iran’s revolution, we do see genuine social reform that is greatly enhanced through social media, without its success necessarily being attributed to the medium in which it succeeds. Yes, we won equal marriage, but by and large it took hold on social media, and that’s a fact worth analyzing. How these technologies brought unity to a community, and encouraged change through simple involvement, is a feat like no other.
It wouldn’t be unheard of to hear someone reference the “fight for marriage equality,” but all over the world today, it is a fight that rages on as a matter of physical brutality. Participating publicly in the fight for gay rights was and still is inherently dangerous. But the anonymity the Internet provides us today removes the element of danger from social reform almost entirely. Closeted men can sign their change.org petitions in secrecy, and then go pick up the kids from soccer. But, what makes gay subculture on social media so unique is the fact that visibility depends on personal choice. LGBT people make an active choice to put themselves “out there,” and it’s a choice that makes many of us feel so strongly that we are connected.
The use of Facebook and Twitter to promote rallies for marriage equality efforts, including petitions as well as rights in general, is exactly what we needed. We needed a device to account, frankly, for the cowardice and fear in those of us who are too afraid to speak out, but were willing in some way to help. And in congruence, we needed a place where we could be visible and united for ourselves and for others to see. Facebook and Twitter have done this job marvelously.
Chris Roney is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies and American studies. His column, “Open Season,” runs on alternate Mondays. He is a former Copy Editor of The Daily Targum.