Searching for Significance through Static, Reflections on Spirituality, Social Justice, and Social Media
BY CHRISTINE CATE | November 20, 2014
Sometimes, reading the news makes my stomach turn. Just look at a few news sources to see what I mean. The current headline for The Huffington Post is about sexual assault accusations, The Christian Science Monitor’s center headline focuses on racism, The Los Angeles Times’ front page announces impending immigration news, and The New York Times’ first headline continues the Ebola coverage. Sexual assault, racism, immigration, poverty and infectious disease are intermingled with stories on Kim Kardashian’s newest racy cover, snow storms on the East Coast, and political speculations. There’s constant media attention bombarding us with stories ranging in importance from superficial fluff to deeply divisive topics.
The never-ending availability of news is positive in one sense, as the public is becoming more “informed,” but it also has its consequences. The media is desensitizing us to critical social issues like violence, racism, and sexism, while simultaneously flooding our feeds with stories of naked celebrities trying to break the internet or the most expensive Starbucks drink ever. Inane news stories focusing on things like which celebrity unfollowed who on Instagram this week distract us from being able to critically observe and understand the world in which we live. Even political news stories can contain sensational levels of bias that make getting an objective comprehension of situations nearly impossible. And it’s nearly impossible to escape; anyone active on social media knows how often links to news articles show up among personal updates and advertisements. Individualswho aren’t constantly connected to social media, rare as they may be, are still saturated with current events from radio, print, and advertising outlets. It takes real effort to not know about what is going on in the world in our current society, and ignorance may be just as harmful as news-intoxication.
Both the lack of current event literacy and the over-saturation of news are serious problems in our world, as media is one of the most powerful influences in society today. Having just come back from the Ignition Family Teach-In, I’m reflecting on the role that news and social media play in our lives and society, and how that impacts both our spirituality and capacity to enact social justice.
In the rare moments between keynote speakers and breakout sessions, large projection screens and television monitors displayed live updates of tweets with the #IFTJ14 hashtag. Multiple photographers scurried around the crowded conference room, and cameras recorded every speaker for the online live stream. The slogan for this year’s Teach-In was “Uprooting Injustice, Sowing Truth, Witnessing Transformation,” through which issues of immigration reform, divestment from fossil fuels, and Central American legislation were highlighted, as well as special recognition for the 25th anniversary of the UCA martyrs. Over the course of Saturday and Sunday, conference attendees were challenged to view these issues, as well as other powerful issues like the criminal justice system and racism in society, from a lens of spirituality and social justice. During presentations, audience members tweeted out perspectives or quotes that they felt were especially eye-opening or striking, with tweets flying out into cyberspace and appearing shortly after on the illuminated screens.
The reach of the Teach-In is hard to fathom. With an estimated 1,600 attendees, and the majority of them active on social media, it wouldn’t be a far stretch to say that tens of thousands of people were indirectly exposed to the messages of the Teach-In through media sources. The goal of the Teach-In was to give voice to the voiceless, to highlight areas in our collective history and present realities that need change, and I think that goal was accomplished spectacularly. Social media amplified the messages spoken at the Teach-In, and expanded the audience beyond just physical attendees.
But amid the masses of news stories already flooding the eyes and minds of people today, is social media enough to make change? How many news readers are intentional in what and how they read news stories? How many social media users are intentionally aware of their influence, and use their accounts as platforms to share morally important or challenging new stories? How many people are harnessing the power of social media to identify injustice, spread truth, and incite action for transformation?
There are plenty of examples of how social media has brought faith into daily rhetoric. The hashtag #blessed is popular on Instagram and Twitter, and there are hundreds of accounts that exist solely to post encouraging scripture passages, quotes, or otherwise spirituality related content. Spirituality and faith have become trendy in certain spheres, with social media users around the world able to share prayers and encourage and inspire from afar. But rarely do faithful social media users, in both senses of the word, connect their spirituality, social media reach, and social justice.
What would it look like if the culture of mainstream news and social media changed to include the combination of spirituality and social justice? Would the voices of the oppressed and marginalized be heard more? Would people be more willing to confront the uncomfortable problems in our societies and work for positive change? Or would we just become desensitized to it, like we have for news coverage on war and violence? Can the integration of spirituality and social media be a powerful tool to expose injustices, spread truth, and document change?
I don’t have answers to these questions, not yet. I am far more aware of my social media presence and interaction with news outlets, and would like to be more intentional in how I read news stories and pass them along to my sphere of influence. I think by critically analyzing new stories, and calling out the biases that we have been so accustomed to, we can change the structure of how information is transmitted in society. I think that by integrating spirituality and social justice on a conscious level with how we use social media platforms, we will be able to uproot injustice, sow truth, and witness transformation.
Maybe one day, the news outlets won’t have any horrific injustices to report on. There’s always hope.
Christine Cate is a senior at Santa Clara University, with a Public Health Science major and Biology minor. Her passion for social justice was sparked early in college when she started traveling and learned about global realities her hometown of Carmel, California never exposed her to. Christine feels called to a life of service, accompaniment and advocacy. She is deeply committed to working towards social justice and global equity, as well living a life of faith and love. She loves documenting life (you can follow her on Instagram @chrischriscate and on twitter @christeenmaree), traveling, social justice, coffee & tea (specifically Peet’s), taking spontaneous adventures, and deep conversations. She spent her summer in El Salvador, studying abroad with the Casa de Solidaridad program, volunteering at an AIDs clinic, and participating in the ISN’s delegation commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Jesuit martyrs. She’s extremely excited to join the ISN media team and attend her first Teach-In this November!
Your sentiments echo many of my own, Chris, when it comes to the advent of social media in our daily lives. With respect to raising our own children, my wife and I have conscientiously made the decision to keep our kids sheltered from news coverage namely for the types of disturbing or mindless stories that permeate the Internet. It’s encouraging to know that good people like you are working to use our modern forums for educating and inspiring as well.