I started using social media networks as a way of spying on my teenage daughter. I remember that was the year Obama got elected. It took the first footages of the horrendous Israeli bombardments of the much less heavily armed Gazans, to turn social media networking political for me. I went on Facebook with a mission: to inform those on my friends list, who got their news from the mainstream media in the US that the attack was more akin to ethnic cleansing, or colonialist massacre than to any kind of a war. This preceded the 2009 Election Uprising in Iran that really made us, bloggers on the internet or housewives on Fb, believe in the value of our tireless work of constantly posting news. We, naively, believed that we could finally participate from the safety of our own far away homes, in the political life of a country we had long ago fled or abandoned.
When I look back to then and compare it to now I see that we have come full circle. Another horrendous and disproportionate bombing of Gaza, another impotent reformist President in Iran, and always that same slight disappointment with Obama for not having acted with the passion of an angry black man seeking to right wrongs. Very little has changed even my weight which went down in a colossal effort to regain my health and youth is up to what it was. So, the state of my weight is no more improved than the state of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. In fact if you look at my Fb page from when I joined to now, you’ll feel that we live in a historical loop, as though god is out of songs to play and keeps playing the same record over and over again. The only change that occurs is that the kids grow up and go on to become actual people living somehow outside the ugliness of this world somewhere in the realm of ‘family photos.’
Yes, I know. I’m lucky, many of us are, because we live and our kids grow up, in the relative safety and freedom of the West. The awfulness of the world is not experienced by us directly. But it is felt more immediately than ever. And that is the good news. In fact what moved someone like me or my Californian friend whose kids are off to college and has a lot of time on her hands, is moving everyone else as well. Why? Because people have a fairness barometer the world over. Give them the truth and they can judge for themselves. We, the idle folks on the internet, the consumers, ‘shared’ the news, the telephone recorded videos, the pictures of bleeding children and mourning mothers so much that it finally shook the world just a little. CNN and other mainstream media outlets, changed, all be it ever so slightly, because they turned to twitter for their news and felt our outrage. Of course, the twitter revolution in Iran never came to be, of course cyber space is a great place for bubbles to grow and massacres to be faked but we learned how to decipher the truth, we became experts at identifying the fakes. We stayed online and spread the news of the horrors of this world and hoping that finally we can make the world feel our collective outrage. Because of us the bored but informed folks logging in from monotonous jobs, bad marriages, or empty nests the importance of public opinion has tripled. Diane Sawyer apologizes because we all know the difference between an Israeli bomb and a Palestinian rocket and she doesn’t. We know which sites fabricate and which skype conversations with people on the ground are real.
Normal everyday folk with no stomach for actual war have taken to the internet and act as mouthpieces for the oppressed. Things become silly at times like the posting of memes and endless quotes, but in the end a new sensibility is shared and spread. And guess what? No one likes an unfair war. No one likes children dying or women being raped. Ordinary people want peace and happiness everywhere. There is a new consciousness out there. The consciousness of ordinary folk who have come to face extraordinary realities imposed on them by those who run this world. From Tehran to Los Angeles, from Hong Kong to Boston, from Cairo to Paris people share what moves them, what hurts them, what gives them hope. All this sharing is making for a common language, giving rise to a new awareness that makes getting away with corruption and massacre just a little more difficult. Of course our political weight is pooh poohed. They will tell us that outrage that isn’t taken to the street is useless. Frankly, on the street I’m a chicken and on Fb I roar. So what? I don’t want to lose life and limb but I have time to spend reading, deciphering and spreading the news.
This rather feminine space-- at least in my age group, most of my friend’s husbands look down on fb and haven’t joined or are inactive; they tell their wives to get off fb just like they used to tell them to stop talking on the phone all day-- may not be real, it may not solve problems quickly or concretely, but it can sure be quick to point out misinformation. It can sure make a picture of Israelis watching with glee as Gaza gets bombed go viral. And it has brought about a new sensibility. A cyber savvy, if you will, that at least makes us see through the lies and propaganda of the big boys running this world. It allows us to choose for ourselves right from wrong.
Of course, there is always a downside. The same internet is used to build bombs and terrorist cells or spy on citizens. But this new connectedness, this instant access via skype or cell phone videos, bears promise of a new revolution. Someday, we may use this connectedness to save this global village of ours and make actual war a thing of the past.