Lucy Stewart

Is the Internet doing more harm than good?

I feel spoilt these days; if I want to voice my views, contact people like me, be normal, be controversial, shout my thoughts in any way I want to, it can all be done at the tough of a button, the tap of a key. The world of social media has created a whole new platform in which people can campaign, protest and simply argue their views. Comment the right things in the right places and suddenly you can become viral, catapulting something you consider to be important onto the screens of millions around the world. 

For feminist campaigners, the effect has been undeniably tumultuous; Twitter and the waves of consequences it causes with every tweet has brought feminism into a place where it has become relatable. Slowly but surely, feminists are proving that we are something more than angry man-haters (although there is still an undeniably large stigma around it). The internet has played a large part in the start of this transformation. Feminists no longer have to take to the streets to protest and struggle to publish a book in order to get their views heard but can publish their opinions freely and easily as often as they want. Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism and Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett’s The Vagenda books are just two examples of where the internet, especially through the use of twitter and social media, has brought feminism into mainstream publication. Even to name just two examples is to undermine the internet’s power. 

And yet, in May, Germaine Greer commented her thoughts on this world of social media in an article for the New Statesman. She stated that ‘simply coughing up outrage into a blog will get us nowhere’. Greer has a point. People are tricked into thinking that if they tweet something it always has the desired effect they want. Take the ‘#bringbackourgirls’ movement that recently swept through twitter and yet, unsurprisingly, has had a limited effect in returning schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram.
In fact, it seems we are all becoming lazy. We are losing the campaigns, the passion, the people prepared to risk everything they have to fight for a cause they believe in because here, in the Western world, with our cafes with free wifi and our millions of internet viewers we are convinced that we are making a difference. 

And maybe we are. But have we considered the bad side to it all? 

Recent BBC documentary, Blurred Lines: The Battle of the Sexes drew particular attention to a new kind of pain facing those campaigning for their beliefs, with the wonderful world of social media came the curse of the internet troll. It is vital to remember that, while the internet has become a hotspot for finding feminist campaigners and people not scared to voice their opinions on sexism behind the comfort of a computer screen, it has allowed people who think the exact opposite to do the exact same. While the internet has seen the birth of the No More Page 3 campaign it has also encouraged the presence of Men’s Rights Activists. The internet is not only encouraging us to become lazy, it’s also encouraging more haters, more trolling and has stopped people seeing further than their virtual world. And that is why we need to take it back for ourselves. 

Greer highlights that the internet is becoming a division for feminism. While it should be making us more powerful, it is diminishing ideas, allowing powerful women to become crushed under criticism and allowing feminist on feminist fighting in a bigger way than it has ever before been seen. As a movement known for its many ‘feminisms’ rather than as being just one ‘feminism’, this is probably unsurprising to most. But shouldn’t we come together on just this one thing? In reality, we’re all guilty of it; sitting behind a computer screen, carelessly typing our views into the twittersphere or countless blogs but are we making any progress? 

And yet this does not mean that Greer and the twitter trolls and the doubting world all have to win this argument and be right; the internet has the ability to be amazing, to make promote your views in big cities, despite the fact that you’re sitting in a tiny village. And it is for that reason that we should be careful before we put it down. The internet should not be trivialized, nor be insulted as just a place to complain – but be reclaimed through campaigns and things that matter. Although Greer’s point is clear, this does not mean we cannot salvage the culture of complaining that she talks about. We just need to make sure that it’s the things that matter which come to the forefront. And it is through doing this that we need to take back social media.

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