Letter from the Editor by Sam O’Brien ’18

This June, as the New Jersey primary loomed before me, I compulsively deactivated my Facebook page not once but eight times. If anyone were to have asked what, exactly, was the motivation behind these pseudo-grand gestures, I would have probably said something noncommittal about this election “stressing me the fuck out.”

In hindsight, I’ve been able to refine what it was that so bothered me, and the best way that I can think to describe it is as the un-nuanced, monolithic political opinions of elite liberal college culture, and in particular, the way in which social media perpetuates these tendencies.

Social media itself is certainly not the culprit of all lazy group-think. And at times, collective thought is, in fact, an imperative and requires a mechanism as incredibly expedient as Facebook to convey a message quickly. It is the reason that the whole country knows Brock Turner’s name and face and that he will probably never again get a job — or a date for that matter for the rest of his goddamn pitiful life. It is the reason that his victim has had the opportunity to have her painful story be heard and validated by thousands—among those Vice President Joe Biden. It is through social media alone that we are able to quickly disseminate horrifying videos of violence against black and brown bodies and fuel the rage necessary to sustain a movement so powerful and important Black Lives Matter. These are areas in which social media is able to play an unprecedented role in social and political movements. Now, more than ever, we possess incredible tools for effecting change and if we give a damn, we better freaking use them.

I so deeply admire the bravery and determination of the three Amherst women of color who gave life to Amherst Uprising. They made use of the incredibly efficient calendaring system that is Facebook events to mobilize the entire student body in the Frost Library, as a vehicle for real-life, human activism. I think of them when I catch myself scrolling through mind-numbing feeds of political rants, hour after hour. I think of them and it keeps my all-too frequent, false sense of political engagement in check.

Yet far too often the risk Facebook activism runs is the tapering down of our otherwise nuanced, multifaceted perspectives and approaches to activism and social justice. For those of you who were lucky enough to miss this whole debacle, over this past summer there was a bit of a Facebook uproar within the Amherst community over the new location of the Queer Resource Center. What had happened in actuality was a rather innocuous miscommunication of sorts between the Amherst Student and the QRC about whether or not they were going to swap locations. This miscommunication quickly devolved into a copy-and-paste Facebook status frenzy, the gist of which was that The Student was somehow conspiring to submerge the queer community into the depths of the Morrow basement and thus obstructing attempts to promote queer visibility on campus. The absurdity of this leap of logic should really speak for itself. At risk of stating the obvious, it seems not only likely but necessarily the case that at least some portion of the Amherst Student staff identify as queer. Thus, the chances that the Student doubles as some sort of queer-phobic collective? Probably slim.

Rather than try to actually parse reality and find out what actually happened, it seemed to me that the student body was far too gung-ho about jumping the gun and assuming that somebody had to be in cahoots with somebody. Moreover, the phenomenon of copying and pasting a Facebook status runs the risk of being unthinking, rigid, dogmatic even– as if the queer community and its allies are a monolith and that there is only way to express one’s support for queer visibility. I have heard other friends, who identify as queer, express the fact that they liked the QRC’s original domain in the Morrow basement; they liked its seclusion and security and hominess, especially for those that were not quite ready to come out in such a public manner. And I am not saying that one perspective is more valid than another–instead, that we might benefit from allowing for slight fluidity in perspective without conflating it with “The Real Evil.”  And it was Facebook that essentially enabled a frenetic firestorm of misdirected finger pointing.  It makes a world in which we don’t fact-check all the more permissible. It conflates good intentions with good results.

Or with the recent Huffington Post article written by an Amherst senior, “On Behalf of the Amherst Men’s Soccer Team (That is not our locker room).” The premise of this article was to state the men’s soccer team’s commitment to promoting a locker room culture that does not reflect the values of a “Donald Trump locker room”. Not two hours after this article having reached my attention did I see its retaliation—not critically examining Lander’s article but denouncing it as capital “p” PROBLEMATIC. The post received over 200 likes—largely represented by individuals in my Amherst circle, including those who I happened to know had a generally positive reaction to Lander’s article. I fear, however, that far too many of us—myself included– suffer from the compulsion to “like” posts that seemingly project an aura of social conscientiousness. We fear that to abstain from liking is to project ourselves onto the other end of the spectrum, towards misogyny or homophobia or other such evils. So we hit like. The effect of this is that 200 deeply intelligent and nuanced subjectivities are distilled by the constraints of the platform that is Facebook. It sends the message to the “David Landers” of the world that 200 people would rather them have done nothing.

My ask, then, is that we think of Facebook as a means to some greater end, rather than an end in of itself. This means that we corroborate our information with alternate sources, and we resist the compulsion to hit “like” idly. Beyond Facebook, we welcome a plurality of perspectives, accept that there is more than one path “forward.” As long as we have similar goal, it is perfectly alright if we opt for slightly different modes of achieving that goal. Liberal or not, dogma is dogma and a danger to be avoided.  

sobrien18@amherst.edu

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