Op-Ed: Armchair advocacy gets us nowhere

You may have noticed your Facebook news feed filling up with white equal signs on red backgrounds. This is the latest example of “armchair advocacy,” or the idea that changing your Facebook profile picture transforms you into an activist – a revolutionary.Image

Those that have made the switch from the “selfie” they took over spring break, to the equal sign, are showing their support for marriage equality, and the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act by the Supreme Court. After all, how can the Supreme Court ignore such a brave, bold action. Surely, they can only make the decision to overturn DOMA in the face of all these Facebook status updates. Right?

Well, probably not.

This is the same sort of trend we saw a couple years back, with the viral campaign by Invisible Children focused on Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army in the Central African Republic. In response to a viral video, millions of people changed their Facebook profile pictures, and many more ordered merchandise from the website.

 When the day of real action came, almost no one made a tangible effort to raise awareness, and the campaign fell flat.

According to an article on BBC News online, on April 3, 2013, Uganda called off the search for Joseph Kony in the Central African Republic. The outpouring of Facebook statuses, tweets, and video shares did nothing to stop this man. It did, on the other hand, make a lot of people feel good about themselves.

Follow-through is easily the biggest problem with armchair activism. Many people feel that it is enough to change their profile picture, because it does the noble deed of raising awareness. They fail to take the next step by signing petitions, or calling government representatives, or making a physical donation. Raising awareness is helpful, sure, but it doesn’t guarantee that anyone’s going to actually do anything.

The problem with the latest round of politically charged armchair activism is that I have seen it do almost nothing more than incite vicious Facebook arguments. People opposed to marriage equality have changed their profile pictures to white crosses on red backgrounds, and both parties attack each other relentlessly, quoting the Bible and the Constitution in equal parts. Is this progress? I think not.

Armchair activism has turned the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA into a religious debate, time and time again. What the Supreme Court is really weighing heavily, though, has to do with states’ rights versus federal power. I have yet to see this discussion crop up on anyone’s timeline. It seems as if the Facebook profile pictures, and the ensuing debates, are clouding the issue, if anything.

The fact of the matter is, changing your profile picture on Facebook isn’t going to change the world. It’s a step, but it’s a misguided one. Without real actions accompanying the switch, progress is never going to be made.

When we hear the Supreme Court’s decision on DOMA, I can guarantee you that no justice will claim that their decision would have been different if just a few more people had changed their profile pictures to picture of equal signs. Not one.

No matter what side of the debate you’re on, it’s going to take more than a snazzy profile picture to make real change. Get out of your armchair and into your community. Make some phone calls, write letters, make donations, and sign petitions.

Don’t settle for what’s easy. Make an effort. Then, when you’ve accomplished something that makes a real difference, by all means, feel free to brag about it on Facebook. You’ve earned it.



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