[-empyre-] Social Media Use across Campaigns for Social Justice

David Golumbia dgolumbia at gmail.com
Thu Dec 11 03:04:36 EST 2014

the obvious logical fallacy in celebrating the usefulness of social media
in campaigns for social justice is that what one is celebrating in practice
is the power of the communications medium to realize whatever we think
"social justice" is.

but that power does not know social justice, however we construe that term.
it is just power.

consider parallel and equally specious formulations: "the power of language
to create social justice." "the power of writing to create social justice."

all real powers, but improperly framed. the power really being described is
the power of communications to shape society and culture *tout court*.

that power can be used for good or evil, and any thoughtful social
philosophy will recognize that 'good" and "evil" are in the eyes of the

unless someone has developed a filter of some sort that makes "social
media" (or "language" or "writing" etc.) ONLY useful for that which we all
agree is "social justice," what one is actually celebrating is a power
which is just as useful for those who *oppose* whatever one's vision of
social justice is, as for those who support it.

it also obscures discussions of the affordances of power itself, and of
particular communications media in their relation to power. I am not at all
convinced, to take a specific example, that the things Twitter does that I
consider hospitable to my vision of social justice undo or even
substantially mitigate its uses for what I consider not good, in particular
urging us to replace *slightly* more considered debate of important topics
with the heat and fire of our very immediate reactions, separated from the
bodily considerations that, in person, often make us think twice.

there is no more ironic way to cross this "t" than to think about the
incredibly fluent use of social media by ISIS. I have absolutely no doubt
that the members of ISIS see this as directly contributing to their vision
of "social justice." It doesn't happen to be mine. But the idea that we
should segment off *our *vision of what social justice is, and then look at
social media only and exclusively for how its power contributes to that
vision, is one of the more dangerous developments in recent years. It is
tunnel vision of the most pernicious sort. and it is everywhere in the
scholarship on social media in particular: "I'm going to look exclusively
at the thing I consider good and how social media contributes to it, and
put aside any consideration of the things I consider bad." That's not
scholarship: it's advertising.

David Golumbia
dgolumbia at gmail.com
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