Has Social Media Activism Changed Your Mind About Your Beliefs or Lifestyle?

As your children grow up in your household, you shape their lives by teaching them the things that you want them to know. How to talk. How to count. How to say their ABCs.

Depending on your own personal beliefs, you may teach them the ways of your faith or religion, or maybe even teach them that all religions and their dogma are false should you have a household that is of the agnostic or atheist persuasion. And depending on which sport you love and which team your support, you will get your own children to follow that code and furthermore, support your team. That’s just how it’s done.

And then you send them out into the world. You send them off to school where they mix with children from a whole array of backgrounds. Kids who have other beliefs to those you instilled in your own children before they left to explore the world. Kids who may take your child’s “love” of the round ball game and get them into one of the oval ball games much to your vexation. Or maybe they will stay true to the code of football that you raised them to watch, but all their friends come from families that support another team and your child switches to support them.

These things happen. I know. I am living proof of this. Yes it’s anecdotal, but I imagine I am not the only one who changed their allegiance to a team based on an external mentor or friendship rather than from someone within the family.

Never before have we been inundated with opinions, not just from people paid to offer up their opinions such as radio shock jocks, newspaper editorialists, and hosts of television shows, but from friends and family on social media. The relatively young age of 13 is when our children are legally allowed to sign up to social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Tumblr, Flickr, and Foursquare to name but a few. It’s at this point in their life that your children will be exposed to even more ideas that might sit outside of your own comfort zone. It’s when they are still young and impressionable that ideas and ideals, moral choices and independent thoughts (outside of those you’ve taught them) will be thrown at them at a rate that their tiny minds may struggle to keep up with. And their peers, other relatives and pages they follow, and those of these who they have learned to trust more than any others will be the ones that they cling to and believe.

There are beliefs outside of the norm of my friends and family that I was drawn to well before social media’s persuasion even came into being. Even though I grew up in a Christian society with influences not only from those within my social circles, but on television and from scripture (religious education) classes at school I grew to leave that religious teaching behind. Remember when you didn’t have a choice to sit out of those weekly religious education classes? Remember when your parents had to pick one for you to attend because their was no such thing as a non-religious class or moral education class like we have in our schools now? Yes, I had to sit through the weekly Anglican scripture studies.

Even though I had that influence on my life, reading the array of books we had in our house, from ancient history, to encyclopaedias and other factual books made me question the legitimacy of religious dogma. Things (about religion) that didn’t make sense to me and facts about the true history of our planet made also those creationism and “kid friendly” Bible stories seem improbable and unbelievable.

Whether it’s your belief in a religious movement, your belief and support of feminism, your stance on vaccinations, whether pro-vaccines or anti-vaccines, your support of clean living and anto-GMO ideals, or the various methods involving the best approach to raising children, everyone is fast becoming activists for their causes, and they are sharing stories, memes, inspirational quotations, cartoons and videos on social media that support their beliefs. Whether you want the title or not, if you’ve ever shared something like this on social media or via email, you are an activist.

The Rise of Internet Activism

Although internet activism can be traced back to 1990, it really didn’t start to take a hold until almost ten years later with organisations starting their own websites to promote their causes and a few years later for individuals, like me, to start blogging about ideas outside of the socially accepted norm. Before social media as we know it today came along, individuals who started reading and believing in the ideas being put forward by underground writers would share links to the websites and user group discussions via email. Email was, in this way, the first foray into the way stories and ideas are shared today.

Although there were other social media platforms before the 26th September 2006, that date marked a moment in time when the way we viewed the world would change forever. Once Facebook allowed everyone over the age of 13 who had a legitimate email address to have a Facebook account (before that it was only open to university students to have an account), it took less than two years before over one-hundred-million users had signed up to be connected. And that doubled to over two-hundred-million users worldwide in only six months.

Although Twitter was released to the general public two months before Facebook allowed anyone to join their network, Twitter’s popularity has never reached the heights that Facebook has, yet it has seen its potential as a platform for internet activism pretty much from day one. This could have a lot to do with the age demographics of the Twitter user being older people who are not on any other social media platform, but have an opinion on current events and other worldly views, and they want to get their voice across to as many people as possible.

Ideas Being Promoted On Social Media

Long before the Kony 2012 phenomenon of, well, 2012, individuals and organisations were already using Facebook to share information about their cause. Whether it was sharing a link to a YouTube clip like the Kony 2012 Invisible Children short film, or sharing a meme about why you should seek salvation through Jesus, or sharing a link to a story from a website such as the lobby group formerly known as the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN) to promote their anti-vaccination stance, Facebook was fast becoming a hotbed of major and minor activism movements.

I joined Facebook a few days after my first date with my now wife. I had heard about it but really wasn’t all the interested in joining it until she suggested that I create and account and we could connect. I sort of think she was just looking at increasing her friend numbers as many people were competing to do back in the early days of “Facey.” And in those eight years since I joined the network, I have connected with over 400 people; with 411 friends as I write this, and many more that have unfriended me or I have unfriended for various reasons since we connected.

Over that time I have had friends push various different beliefs down my throat, and I have pushed many of my own beliefs down the virtual throats of my own friends and family.

I have had friends try to convince me that their brand of Christianity is best. I have had friends push their political beliefs upon me. I have had friends push their controversial conspiracy theories about world events such as the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks, the Sandy Hook shootings, the disappearance of victims of abductions, and their beliefs about how “Big Pharma” is trying to kill everyone rather than make them better or cure their diseases.

I have had friends and family suggest that circumcisions are best, and other suggest that circumcisions are cruel. I have had friends suggest that breastfeeding as long as possible is the only way to go and that doing anything less makes you a bad mother. I have had friends and family share all matter of things about what is best for raising children. I have had friends and family suggest that vaccinating your kids is wrong and you should avoid it like the plague (although, if the plague came back and there was a vaccine, I’m putting my hand up and pulling my sleeve up for that, thank you very much).

Some of these things I have read about and then done my own independent research into them and through a share on Facebook, I have changed my opinion on the topic. Or partly changed my mind, at the very least.

The Thing That Got Through To Me

It’s not just friends and family, but celebrities and organisations such as companies or media outlets, that have shared a meme or a video, or a link to a website and my mind has been changed after thinking about the thing that they are promoting.

Comedian Ricky Gervais is very outspoken about animal rights on his public Facebook fan page and on Twitter. Photo courtesy of PETA.org
Comedian Ricky Gervais is very outspoken about animal rights on his public Facebook fan page and on Twitter. Photo courtesy of PETA.org

I have had a few friends promote vegetarianism or the vegan lifestyle. I have always been a pro-bacon person myself, and have thought it crazy that there are religions that ban the eating of certain animals (such as the Muslim and Jews not eating pig products), or the flesh only from animals (such as Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, of which some of their denominations promote vegetarianism, but not veganism).

And although I have overlooked many of those pictures of slaughtered animals, or pigs and chickens living in less than ideal conditions for many years. Yet, of all the things that have been shared on my Facebook’s news feed, these are the things that I have recently spoken to loudest to me, and I have taken to heart.

At the end of July, I shared this on my own Facebook wall.

vegetarian status updateIf you can’t see the picture, my status reads;

“My decision to become a vegetarian about five weeks ago has been a long time coming. I was going to write about it but it was turning into a 100,000 word thesis.

Now, in light of the Cecil the Lion murder and the outrage it’s caused, I know that I have made the right decision.

When I shared the photo of our chickens and rabbit over a year ago the only comments I got were from people who said all they see there is food. And that made me feel sick because these were our pets they were talking about.

Although I wouldn’t eat rabbits myself, I continued to eat chicken. And as time went by I started to realise that it isn’t the right thing to do, for me.

Cadel actually asked me one night at the dinner table (after we got our chickens) “Why do they call it chicken? Is that like our chickens?” And I lied and said no because I wanted him to eat his dinner.

I feel bad about lying to him but I did what I thought was the right thing to do back then.”

That incident reminded me of that episode of The Simpsons called Lisa The Vegetarian (clip below) where, when Lisa said that she couldn’t eat this lamb, Homer replied…

“Lisa, get a hold of yourself. This is lamb, not a lamb.”

Really, I don’t know why I didn’t make the change after watching that episode almost 20 years ago. But I digress…

Now I’m not about to become an activist for the vegetarian or vegan movement myself. Well, not just yet at least. And maybe not on this blog.  I have often wondered whether one could be a vegetarian or vegan and not be one that pushes their own beliefs on people. I mean, I have scared away friends who have unfriended me because I am very vocal on things I believe in such as voting for the left-wing parties and being a Socialist, being pro-choice, being pro-same-sex marriage, being anti-religion and a vocal Atheist, being pro-feminism and anti-racist and believing that every single person on this planet should have equal rights, no matter their race, religion, gender or whatever it is that makes them different to the “accepted” social norms.

And now I feel that same way about every animal on this planet.

But choosing to become a vegetarian and working my way to “going full vegan” is something that I have done and that I am taking on for me. I am not going to force this upon my wife and kids. Sure there will be beliefs and prejudices that I hold and I may promote these ideals to my immediate family, but this is something that I have taken on for my own piece of mind.

And even though this piece seems like a soapbox that I am standing on and yelling to the world “you too should become a vegetarian or vegan,” I’m not about to do that. (Again, maybe not just yet, and not here on this blog). My friends and family will not have their news feeds inundated with share after share after share of memes promoting my lifestyle choice, because, when all is said and done, I have already reduced many of the things I used to share on Facebook that were turning my friends and family away because I have to weigh up what my main fight is, and that’s the thing that I have to promote above all others.

And it’s this blog, and the promotion of fathers being a part of the parenting game just as much as mothers; that is MY fight.

But, because I pour so much of me into this blog, and this IS a major turning point in my life, I really needed to share that. Call this my coming out to veganism. But don’t judge me by this if you are one to, like I used to, judge “those people” as crazy tree hugging hippies. There ain’t nothing wrong with that, and honestly, most vegetarians and vegans do not fit the stereotypes.

And I will remind you all that, it is also not my place to judge.

But it is my place to educate. So maybe, just maybe, you will get the occasional pro-vegan or pro-vegetarian post thrown in. If it’s not your cup of tea (made with a non dairy milk of course), I won’t expect you to read that. But, if you want to, then feel free. And like always, feel free to comment. You know I enjoy the conversation.

Have you been swayed by any social media activism? Have you been reluctant to change your opinion even though you’ve seen your friends and family share things to promote their causes for a long time, only to finally breakdown and join them?

One thought on “Has Social Media Activism Changed Your Mind About Your Beliefs or Lifestyle?

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