The Internet is wonderful.
It allows us to connect with loved ones far away, to learn new skills and most importantly, to keep up with the news. Any person with access to the Internet can post whatever they want, whenever they want, to others anywhere in the world. With the Internet, we can see through the eyes of any citizen journalist, raw and unfiltered.
We must not underestimate the power of social media.
The video that showed George Floyd dying at the hands of four US policemen was filmed by a brave 17-year-old girl who uploaded it to Facebook. The subsequent resurgent Black Lives Matter movement was supported by hashtags and posts on Instagram. Tiktok users from around the world banded together to embarrass US president Donald Trump.
Social media can even change governments. In 2010, Twitter, Whatsapp and Facebook played an important role in mobilising people to speak up against authoritarian rule, sparking off the Arab Spring that has changed the political landscape of the Middle East since.
The younger generation is growing up with access to information about anything and everything and is starting to question social norms and learning how to speak up. Growing up with easy access – all you need is a smartphone! – to other people’s thoughts and opinions makes it easier to understand different perspectives. Social norms that were previously accepted are now being put under the spotlight.
From environmental issues to oppression of minorities, people are becoming more aware of inequality and are doing everything in their power to stand up for what is right.
But we must be clear. With great power of freedom of speech comes great responsibility in exercising it. Online, and especially now with the pandemic, everyone has an opinion. This is all fine and good but we must remember to be mindful of others and be properly educated on each topic.
Educate yourself and others
Most of us would have heard about Black Lives Matter only this year, but did you know that the movement was actually started by three women in 2013 after the killing of an African-American teenager named Trayvon Martin? While BLM today is centered around protesting against police brutality, it has a broader mandate too.
We should try our best to educate ourselves before speaking up. Don’t argue about things you don’t understand just to have a voice in the conversation.
False information spreads fast and many of us make the error of believing style over substance. We have all shared posts seconds after reading them without thinking about whether they are true or false.
Before you share anything, read it in its entirety, check to see if it comes from a credible source and share only if it does not spread hate or negativity. Spreading fake news is destructive and we would not want to be a part of it.
There are many news websites that explain topics for people to learn and understand easily. There are also many news websites dedicated to bringing us unbiased news coverage and others with the mission to educate others on global issues.
Before you speak, listen. Before you post, read. Only after you have educated yourself, then are you well equipped to educate others.
Practise sensitivity and empathy
When learning about a new movement or issue, the first thing we should always do is to process our feelings responsibly.
If you come across something that is related to yourself, be it your race or gender, the first thing to do is to be open. We should be open to hearing new perspectives that go against what we normally believe in. We must remember that everyone experiences life differently and faces different challenges – no two people live the same life.
If an opinion, news article or social movement makes you feel uncomfortable, ask yourself why. Does this go against what you believe in and if so, how? Is it a case of different priorities or different moral structures? How can you learn to understand others from their points of view? Is there a right and wrong in this situation? What should you be standing for?
We need to have these conversations with ourselves and question the perspectives others have with respect to our own perspectives. This goes a long way to developing a balanced view and to figure out what is true and false, what is right and wrong.
We must be able to open our eyes to how the world works and not focus only on how our world works around us. Only then, with true empathy, can we fight for others who are struggling.
Actions speak louder than words
After educating ourselves and learning to empathise, it is time to act.
There are many ways to show support for movements and issues we believe in.
We can spread awareness by sharing posts or speaking out, signing petitions to show support, donating money or belongings and even volunteering our time to help others. Information on how to help is easily accessible. For example, I recently Googled “Yemen crisis” and found many websites with information that inspired me to do something to contribute.
But just as we are inspired to act, we should acknowledge that we should not impose our actions on others.
Most people repost and share information they have come across and ask others to do the same. While some are comfortable sharing, others aren’t, often choosing to act in other ways. We should give them the benefit of the doubt and not be too quick to “call them out”.
For example, if someone did not repost an article about racism like you did, it does not mean that they don’t care. “Cancelling” those who respond differently to causes does not help anyone. There are many who speak up in other ways and assuming that silence is complicity is unfair.
We must make sure to catch ourselves before spreading more negativity or hate. Just because we feel strongly about something does not give us a reason to be harsh to others who don’t understand or don’t react the same way we do. If someone feels differently, we should not attack them but instead, talk to them with an open mind. We might learn something from them too!
We must do our part as human beings to help as many of us as we can. Starting a movement to help others isn’t as hard as it seems. One of SKM’s ground-up movements, It’s raining raincoats, was started with a simple aim to collect donations to spread compassion and to help migrant workers lead better lives here in Singapore. Simple yet, meaningful and impactful.
We must do our part as human beings to help as many of us as we can. Whether we are from a different country, generation, gender, upbringing, race or religion, the world can only get better if we work together to stand up and fight for all who are suffering and are in need of help.