by Lizabeth Wesely-Casella

Sensationalism Masquerading as Advocacy


I love my jobToday I had occasion to get involved in a really ugly dispute over what advocacy is.  At least that was ONE of the many issues at hand.

The real issue was whether or not subjecting one demographic to bigotry and shame was acceptable if it (supposedly) illustrated the point that another demographic was being treated unjustly.  As you can imagine, in the world of social media, it was shitty and unproductive and nobody changed anybody’s mind about anything.  And THAT, my friends is a great example of what advocacy isn’t.

Let’s quickly refresh and solidify our definitions here:

What advocacy is:

  • taking up a cause and spreading factual information to garner support or change minds
  • to support a cause through recommendations and information exchange

What advocacy isn’t:

  • a pissing match
  • perpetuating lurid stereotypes
  • making baseless claims to hold in juxtaposition to that with which you are supporting
  • comparing chickens to bowling balls

In reading the comments from this debate it reminded me that all too often we are drawn into activism without a clear understanding of who we are interacting with.  Simply because a webpage has a name with the word “Intelligent” or “Feminism” or “Activism” or “Equality” does not mean you are somewhere that actually ADVOCATES for anything.  Often times, such as was the case today, we are in the domain of a sensationalist.  Someone whose sole purpose is to create controversy, gin up the crowd so to speak, and create traffic.

A page admin will let you know whether or not they are an advocate by virtue of their interaction with their membership Yellow Journalismand visitors.  Though advocacy is at times heated, it is never about senseless arguing and personal attacks, nor is it about personal promotion and self importance. With phrases such as “I never run from confrontation and I welcome it.” or  “See if you can keep up with our new members, every few minutes. I welcome the challenge.” sewn throughout a lengthy justification for poor posting, you are tipped off that this is not an advocate, this is a sensationalist.  The equivalent of what used to be called a “yellow journalist” they are there to incite, not educate.  Their primary goal is to create divisiveness and evoke emotion so that you will leave your ‘mark’ either by commenting or by your inclusion in their page traffic.

So, what should you do when you are invited or find questionable resources?  You may be interested in them, or you may be reading to delve into the trashier side of social media (we all do it, don’t be offended…) but read critically and read thoroughly.

First, keep your emotional and time expenditure powder dry until you’ve done your research.  Remember we ‘vote’ with our “likes”, “re-tweets”, “favorites” and comments and in that way we give a certain power to those whose sites and pages we connect ourselves to.

Second, listen to that paranoid voice that says, “Would you want to be linked to this person in public?”  It’s a good thing to keep in mind that as valuable as your ‘vote’ is and as emotionally pulled as you may be to participate, it’s just as valuable to others to see how you voted.  Both in support of your good choices and to snicker at your, as I ended up doing today, wallowing.  We are not at the polling booth in our social networks and because of that, our support is very public and can be thoroughly scrutinized by every person who sees our name and profile pic.

AdvocacyLastly, I’d like to make a plea on behalf of the advocates that DO do good work.  Those that post, write, speak and Tweet in a professional manner – give us your time, give us your likes and give US your feedback.  We WANT to know if we’ve offended you.  We want the opportunity to clarify ourselves if we’ve confused you.  We advocate because we want to change the world – and usually, though not always, we want to include you willingly in that change.

Funny timing this mess, the 50th Anniversary of some of the most effective advocacy in American history is this weekend.   Today’s hate speech and cultural insensitivity – diminishing the humanity of one group in faux support of another – shows we have a LONG way to go in our social tolerance before we achieve Dr. King’s dream.  Unfortunately, I didn’t detect any instinct to follow in those footsteps from the trash talking Admin today.

Leave a Reply

/* ]]> */