Internet Activism Is Only Making Things Worse

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Internet Activism Is Only Making Things Worse

I wrote a column last week that got a bit of blowback. I argued that celebrating gay marriage from the sidelines of heterosexuality is like grabbing a selfie with a marathon-finisher and posting it with the caption “We did it!” The most compelling argument I heard to the contrary was that the actions of millions of Americans in support of gay marriage helped normalize the issue. For better or worse, the zeitgeist is determined by armchair activists and without lip-service support, there would be no support at all. But does overt celebration normalize gay marriage? Or does it just draw another line?

The great promise of the internet was communication. “Imagine a future where people could share ideas free of geographic and political boundaries! Public discourse will rule the day! A new era of enlightenment and two girls sharing a cup is upon us!” But, beyond being able to Wikipedia how many #1 albums DMX released (Five!), the promise has largely eluded us or at least bore its own competing problems. Think about this: When you had an idea about something, you used to have to present that idea to people who were physically present. If they disagreed with you, you were forced to argue your point or reconsider the idea altogether, all while looking them in the eye. But now, you can retreat to whatever corner of the Internet already agrees with you. Your thoughts on a subject, rather than challenged, are calcified before you even have a chance to doubt yourself. Rather than an open field of sharing, the Internet built silos where you can hear your personal beliefs about sexuality, religion, and politics echoed over and over and over until it becomes nothing short of fact.

Worse still, extremes create extremes. Take, for example, the former CEO of Reddit, Ellen Pao. After receiving some abusive emails, she wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about how trolls are “winning the battle for the Internet.” She published an article in a major international newspaper about a fraction of one percent of the population who happen to be insane. This is like picketing the Westboro Baptists or arguing with the drunk homeless guy on the corner. Her reaction gave them credence. She validated them. She made the outliers part of the bell curve.

I mentioned last week that 75 percent of people born after 1980 believe that gay marriage should be legal. The war was already won. Yet, when the Supreme Court made their ruling, we spiked the football in the endzone. I don’t understand what is “normalizing” about that. It all felt reactionary, as if we were proving something. But to whom? Does that open the door to discussion and understanding, or does it slam it shut?


I went to go see Taylor Swift on her 1989 Tour this week. As you’d imagine, it was undeniably incredible. Then I read this popular Gawker piece about how she’s not sufficiently feminist during her concert. Listen, I’ve got my own issues with Taylor’s carefully curated attempt at normality, but I can’t see any reason why a disconnected pop star is expected to be the gilded torch carrier for this writer’s particular brand of feminism. The parting blow of the article was that Taylor had a male — instead of a female — guitarist (seriously). That’s where we’ve ended up. For two and a half hours, a stadium full of people lost their collective shit because Taylor Swift delivered on being the biggest pop star on the planet. Yet, all this person seemed to notice was that the guitar player happened to be born with a penis. So, I’m made to wonder. Who’s the better feminist in this scenario: A female megastar proving she deserves her success in front of thousands of preteen girls? Or an internet writer who wished Taylor Swift stopped the show to talk about intersectionality?

These days, we don’t tell girls that they’re just as capable as boys. That sort of pronouncement assumes that girls don’t inherently know that. The idea that anyone would need to state such an obvious fact casts doubt on the reality itself. It’s like walking into an old house and declaring, “Don’t worry, I’m sure there aren’t any ghosts in here.” I didn’t think there were! ARE THERE GHOSTS IN HERE?! But an old house is just a house. So maybe a female pop star is just a pop star. And, maybe gay marriage is just marriage. Perhaps that simple acceptance – without agenda or celebration, without questions or doubts – is the most progressive thing we can do.


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