After digging my fork into a few Styrofoam containers during lunches in Harrisburg, Pa., I took to my blog to express my dismay that the State Capitol was still taking part in a practice so antiquated it was the subject of a 1991 Saved By The Bell storyline.
Styrofoam, which is manufactured from non-renewable fossil fuels and synthetic chemicals, is not biodegradable, cannot be recycled, kills animals who consume it, and leaches chemicals into the food and beverages it contains – especially hot stuff like coffee. It’s carcinogenic, endocrine disruptive, polluting, and vile – and up until 2017, it was literally the only serving vessel available in the cafeteria at the Pennsylvania State Capitol building.
I tweeted the blog at members of the state congress and made some calls to the Capitol’s facilities management and catering offices. I didn’t hold my breath for action on this one.
Six months later, one of my state reps messaged me a photo of compostable containers along with the message, “We’re back in session this week and the Capitol cafeteria swapped out all the Styrofoam over the summer for more eco-friendly products.”
I asked how this happened, and she said she believed I had something to do with it. Now, I’m not saying I did. Maybe they planned to replace it anyway, maybe someone else in management had the same idea, maybe the Styrofoam company went out of business. I have no way of knowing for sure, and the truth is that it doesn’t really matter. Whatever the cause, the end result will prevent the use of thousands of tons of Styrofoam. (Plus, it will make our state capital look a heck of a lot more modern.)
My blogging and social media tactics did not go viral. But I still have reason to believe they reached the right people at the right time. And whether it’s a singular tweet or an entire movement, there is no doubting the power of blogging and social media in modern everyday activism.
Fed Up with a Cup
In January 2017, green living bloggers Carissa Bonham and Tamara Rubin were surprised to find high levels of lead in a sippy cup from a company called Green Sprout. They tested the cup among their routine testing of random items with a handheld X-ray fluorescent (XRF) analyzer. The legal limit for lead in children’s items is 90 ppm – this cup read 3000 ppm.
They contacted the company to share the results and the company told them they would issue a recall. But they didn’t. So Carissa and Tamara took to their blogs which spread like wildfire among angry parents who left negative reviews on the company’s Amazon and Facebook pages.
Green Sprout responded via lawyer, asking the bloggers to cease and desist. But Carissa and Tamara knew they were posting information based on scientific readings so they refused to take it down. In fact, realizing the company had no legal recourse, the bloggers published the legal letter. And that’s when things really took off – the shares and page views exploded. The company had simply made things way worse for itself. And, in the end, in lieu of a recall, the Green Sprout completely changed the way their cups were manufactured.
And, to be clear, Tamara and Carissa both have decent followings but they are certainly not at the level of international blogging superstars. And they made this happen within six weeks – Carissa even got an apology letter from the company.
Social media can also open a window into the personal psyche of our heroes – celebrities, politicians, writers. If we’re lucky, we get to know them on a level that further piques our admiration. A few, even, will engage with us anonymous strangers on the Internet, amplifying our messages, agreeing with us on points, thanking us for our compliments. In fact, you never know when including the @ of your favorite celebrity will launch you into some unexpected notoriety of your own.
This is why you should choose your words very wisely on these platforms – especially if you are going to tag somebody famous.
Choose Your Tweets Carefully
One night in 2017 I read about Trump’s plan to end protected status for displaced Haitians and deport them. While another xenophobic and cruel immigration tactic by this administration was no surprise, I immediately remembered a conversation I had with a group of Haitian Trump supporters right before the 2016 election.
I learned about this alarming news through a tweet by a very famous author, also known for her clap backs at stupid people on the Internet. But that night, I became one of those stupid people on the Internet.
I retweeted the article, along with the author’s comment about how cruel Trump is, and added:
“I spoke to several Haitian people before Nov. 2016 who were excited to vote for Trump.”
What I meant and should have said:
“I actually spoke to a few Haitian people before the election who believed Trump would somehow support minorities. Sadly we can add Haitian Americans to the growing list of people disenfranchised by this disastrous administration.”
How it read:
“I am a white woman here to tell you that all Haitians voted for Trump, they are why he is president, and they deserve to be deported.”
I got dragged. I was dragged by a very famous author with an enormous following as well as a whole bunch of her followers, who were also really good at dragging me in GIF form.
Like most humans, my initial response was defensive and a lot of “That’s Not What I Meant!” And, as a person who has personally dragged quite a few people on my own Facebook page, I should know that “that’s not what I meant” is not the most helpful way to get out of saying something stupid.
I wanted to just delete the initial tweet but I was afraid that if it disappeared people would just see all the comments with a deleted post and think I had said something even worse.
I put the phone down, took some deep breaths, and thought about it.
What if there was an article about rising anti-Semitism and a non-Jewish person wrote something that could be construed as “Thanks for your Trump vote Jews!”
Yeah, I probably wouldn’t care for that.
So, I apologized to a few people in the thread – well, apart from the one woman who was adamant that I was lying about the Haitian voters I met in Philadelphia (to what end would I make that up?). And I told the author that I am a big fan of her work and that I would choose my words very carefully if I ever chose to retweet her again. And she was basically like, “you sure will.” She was also gracious enough to voluntarily remove her own tweets so I didn’t wake up to an avalanche.
So here is what I learned:
1. Do not ever tweet or subtweet a celebrity on Twitter unless it is to compliment them – That is, of course, unless it is someone you loathe and want to mess with (see Trump family, Susan Sarandon, insert your nemesis here)
2. And this should have been obvious to me: Do not ever tweet any sort of commentary about a group of people of a race, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or nationality that is not your own. The only appropriate words are “I support you.”
3. No matter how “woke” we think we are, we can still screw up and we can always do better. I say this because I get a lot of “not all men,” “not all white women,” etc. on my own pages and I know how easy it is to get defensive and not take a critical look at our own words and actions. Every single one of us can do better, and only by admitting when we mess up can we move forward.
It is really easy to have your words misconstrued on the Internet.
How To Become Notorious
In 2017 the @moonpie Twitter account – yes, the marshmallow sandwich cookie – became an unlikely Internet sensation, raising its following to 162,000 followers with pithy tweets like:
“It’s as good a day as any to stick a MoonPie in the microwave light a couple candles and scream into a soft pillow.”
One day an Icelandic engineer with a very small following and tweets mainly relegated to basketball commentary decided to pay the social media wiz behind @Moonpie a compliment – or so he thought.
@sigurbjornl:“Your time is wasted on Moonpie’s social media.”
Well, the sweet snack was having none of that:
@moonpie: “Buddy it’s Saturday night and you’re talking to a marshmallow sandwich on the Internet”
Cue the 55,000 retweets that will forever haunt poor Sigurbjorn’s life. If he had only articulated his point with a better choice of words: “Your talent is wasted on Moonpie’s social media.”
It was a true caketastrophe.
That Time I Went to War with Roseanne
Social media can also work in mysterious ways, as I learned in the final days of 2017, when I played no small part in the nationally-covered Twitter meltdown of Roseanne Barr.
I wrote an ode of optimism to 2018, highlighting my excitement about the upcoming Roseanne revival because it was (and, really, still is) one of my all-time favorite shows. But within a day or so of publishing the original post, I noticed #BoycottRoseanne trending, which led me down a very dark and unexpected #MAGA rabbithole that was Roseanne’s twitter. So I added an update to the post about my broken heart, tweeted out my update along with the #boycottroseanne hashtag, and tagged Ms. Barr herself – as one often does with celebrities expecting zero response.
I went to bed and woke up to my Twitter blowing up. Apparently, a lot happened in the middle of the night.
Basically, Roseanne retweeted a bunch of stuff in my timeline – including a blog post that was primarily about how to get more Democrats elected in 2018 – blocked me, reported me for harassment (?), and caused a backlash follower spree in my favor led by #theresistance.
So that was kinda cool. I got about 600 new followers in 24 hours and apparently really got under Roseanne’s skin. In fact, the next day, it was widely reported in the national press that I, and a few other Tweeters with the same concerns, caused Roseanne to “threaten retirement over Twitter-feuding with liberals.”
Girl, Bye! If only a few good sense tweets could force a crooked politician to retire. Needless to say, I was like “You’re welcome?” But in reality, I was genuinely sad that she had become so clearly unwell and frankly dangerous in her hateful and fearmongering rhetoric.
Apparently, her publicist and children ripped the phone from her hand, deleted her whole timeline, and tweeted that she was “only retiring from Twitter” with a pinned tweet about how excited she was for the new season of her show.
Flash forward 6 months and a racist Twitter tirade got her TV show canceled and her career essentially ended.
Tweets, posts, and Instagram Stories may seem frivolous – but don’t underestimate the impact.
If You Have Five Minutes (and a social media account)
Join a Thunderclap. Thunderclap is a “crowdspeaking” platform that amplifies messages by empowering people to speak together to rise above the noise on social media. You can search through trending topics or specific causes – it only takes a few seconds to click through and commit to sending an automated tweet or Facebook post to support a campaign.
If You Have An Hour:
Set up a Twitter account. While there are many social media platforms, Twitter is still the pinnacle of politics and social change dialogue. Many politicians (including the current POTUS) use Twitter as a main platform for conveying timely messages. You do not have to use any personal information if you don’t choose to. Follow the decision makers and influencers who matter most in your sphere of interest: elected officials, business leaders, trusted news media, non-profit organizations. Help engage with and amplify messages that matter to you.
This post is part of my Budget Activist series. Thank you for reading and sharing!