The twenty first century has transformed the way people around the world connect on a daily basis. New Media has provided a revolutionary interconnectedness for friends, family, businesses, and other institutions. Moreover, social media is allowing people to take advantage of New Media in endless ways. While social media does have its caveats like all parts of media new and old, it has evolved to be an invaluable tool for minority people who have been disenfranchised, ostracized, and marginalized in society. As an avenue for agency, these people have created spaces of community and trust within social media as they rally together to make their voices turn into the tangible results of action. These spaces where minority people are empowered form a complex support and activism network that is reachable worldwide, and within these networks the different struggles that impact alike identities can be globally recognized. Furthermore, claims that social media has had a wholly negative or positive impact on the marginalized are unfounded as there are a multiplicity of experiences to be had with New Media.
A primary and apparent way to see that social media has been a positive force is to look at how it can be and has been used as a tool and a platform. Social media has quickly evolved over time to provide avenues for agency to those who have not been afforded such a privilege in their everyday lives. Visibility, the state of being able to be seen, is one of the first destinations on this avenue. Being visible is largely a positive force that enables the representation of non-normative identities. One example of direct visibility within social media would be the selfie. Jessica Bennett, in her Time magazine article “Our Bodies, Our Selfies: The Feminist Photo Revolution”, says that selfies have evolved to allow a display of imperfection — or rather what society considers to be imperfection — and they also allow one’s story to be told. She goes on further to say that the selfie defies the notion that there has to be a reason to be seen (Bennett). The fact that visibility can be achieved on social media means that voices can subsequently be heard. This is what is so magical about the selfie: the possibility of agency through the combination of visibility and voice.
Crucial connections enabled by social media are not just applicable on the individual-to-self level. Social media can also be used in a way that connects whole communities of those underrepresented. By creating local, national, and even global networks of support through fellowship, users of social media are able to create their own safe spaces. Additionally, these spaces are often transformed into public areas of activism that use the voice-to-action pathway. One such example is how women, particularly Black women, have taken exploited, white feminist methods of image and created their own. Aria Dean speaks on this in “Closing the Loop” where she says, “black women have taken it upon themselves to craft and circulate alternative texts, leaving behind the limiting frameworks of white, middle class feminists” (Dean). In specific reference to the selfie, a covert instance of this can be seen in how these women have reclaimed their bodily agency from the mainstream (Dean). The pathway that started with visibility and was then met with recognized voice concludes in this very way: with tangible action and results. By shaping social media into a communal tool that works for them, marginalized people are reclaim their agency by creating visibility, voice, and action for themselves.
While addressing the positivity of social media and the selfie’s role in marginalized lives, it is also important to recognize downfalls. A BBC article by Kelly Oakes provides the example of body image and how one’s self esteem can be torn down should someone wish their physique was like another’s (Oakes). However, the invaluable benefits that non-normative identities and bodies are able to grasp through social media cannot be understated. One such invaluable example is Robin Ford’s story in the Allure article “Selfies Help Trans and Nonbinary People Create Our Own Narrative”. Ford said that selfies “were an endeavor that essentially forced me to reckon with my body and how I looked” (R. L.). For trans and non-binary people, being able to see oneself in this context can help them create a connection with their bodies. This duality in social media being both positive and negative in force proves its innate multiplicity. While the field of New Media was initially claimed and dominated by non-inclusive forces like heteronormativity, the open nature of it has allowed individuals like trans and non-binary people to forge their own inclusive space. People do not live single-issue lives, and this can be reflected in essentially every human experience; therefore, it is impossible to justify a wholly negative or positive stance on social media and New Media in general. Kimberle Crenshaw’s term intersectionality further explicates this idea that one identity cannot be thoroughly concluded upon without look at the differentiating identities and forces that impact one another.
Every person lives a life that is made up of endless, diverse, and individual experiences. It only makes sense to therefore conclude that the things people create will also possess some semblance of this complexity. New centuries and their advancements have given way to transformed methods of connection between people with New Media being the exception-less example. While previously dominated by the privileged, social media has been turned into expansive networks where the marginalized have reclaimed their agency in their own ways. The visibility-voice-action pathway is a tool often used by the marginalized to make themselves heard, considered, and counted in. These networks reach locally, nationally, and even worldwide to tether people together who may share the same identities but experience differing struggles. Social media has both benefits and downfalls, but its benefits are invaluable to enable connections and voices for those society had meant to leave out.
Bennett, Jessica. “Our Bodies, Our Selfies: The Feminist Photo Revolution.” Time, 11 Aug. 2014, time.com/3099103/feminist-selfies-uglyfeminists-iwokeuplikedis/.
Dean, Aria. “Closing the Loop.” The New Inquiry, 18 Apr. 2017, thenewinquiry.com/closing-the-loop/.
Oakes, Kelly. “The Complicated Truth about Social Media and Body Image.” BBC Future, BBC, 11 Mar. 2019, www.bbc.com/future/article/20190311-how-social-media-affects-body-image.
R. L., Riley. “Selfies Help Trans and Nonbinary People Create Our Own Narrative.” Allure, 16 July 2019, www.allure.com/story/selfies-important-trans-nonbinary-people.