In the face of Charlottesville events, and of every new death over ideologies around the world, decent human beings hurt. And many of us turn to social media as a way to express that pain.
Sometimes such expression is criticized as pointless. (Sometimes social media itself is dismissed as pointless. Louis C.K. has made this criticism more than once.) The argument is that we should instead be doing something more “active” and visible, like joining a peace march, or organizing a candlelight vigil. And yes, we should be doing such things, and contributing to causes that heal—like Ashoak.org (my favorite), or Feeding America (my second favorite), or Shriners Hospitals.
But social media is not pointless. Far from it. (Just ask our Tweet-addicted President, who used it to inspire voters to give him the job, and who continues to reinforce the faith of his supporters.)
Social media is the soil of grassroots movements. It was the wave that gave rise to the Arab Spring. It is the communication venue for flash mobs (which I believe are far more effective than any more publicly organized demonstration; why give counter-demonstrators any time to prepare?)
Social media is also the voice that reminds us that we are not alone. That our communal hurt is not private. That our common decency is truly common. Yes, it is also the medium of pockets of hate, but that is beside the point. When we express our solidarity in compassion, the world notices, advertisers notice, dollars shift away from hate, and even public figures notice and are empowered to enact their best impulses.
The weekend after the 9/11 attack, Saturday Night Live struggled with its collective conscience for an appropriate response, and they decided to carry on with their jesting as an expression of normalcy. There was joy underlying that weekend show, a sustaining joy below the collective pain. The hate of terrorism and the fear left in its wake was undermined. This is also the power of social media.
So we should not feel ashamed to express our pain by social media, to grapple with it publicly, to discuss ways to cope, and ways to maybe better shape the world. This is honorable.
It is, in fact, what I’m doing right now in this little essay.
Keep on Tweeting and FB posting, my friends. Keep on joking, and sharing baby pictures, family picnics, and the awesome meal you had at lunch. Keep on recommending books and movies and music. This is the normalcy we must hold onto. It is the voice of peace. And it will be victorious in the end.
I love you.