Social media outrage increases public engagement in politics. It raises awareness of key issues and engages many people that would otherwise remain disengaged with the political system.
On December 17, 2010, Mohammad Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor had his unlicensed vegetable cart confiscated by Tunisian police. The policewoman who confiscated it spat on him, slapped him across the face and mocked his dead father. In protest at his appalling, Bouazizi set himself on fire outside the provincial municipality. News of the event spread quickly across social media, engaging the country’s youth that had previously been disengaged from politics. The incident sparked protests. Ten days later, the Tunisian ruler Ben Ali was ousted. The protests in Tunisia would prompt similar protests about the political systems in Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, Morocco and Syria, in what came to be known as the Arab Spring. In Egypt, a similar event triggered their revolutionary protests. Khaled Said, a 28-year-old Egyptian businessman was beaten to death outside an internet café by plainclothes policemen. Photos of his beaten and bloodied face soon circulated online, sparking nationwide protests in the streets. The fates of Mohammad Bouazizi and Khaled Said are widely cited as catalysts for the Arab Spring. The public outrage generated from his story engaged Tunisians in the political process and triggered a public debate on the Tunisian political system and ideology. Social media outrage increases political participation and builds an instant, politically-aware community, highly motivated and committed to instigating change.
Social media outrage rarely translates to active political participation. Part of the reason the Arab Spring was the subject of international awe and amazement was because it was the exception, not the rule. The vast majority of social media outrage does not translate to participation. It is done for selfish reasons. People express outrage at an injustice to show their moral superiority. They crave the likes and shares that expressing outrage generates (nothing garners shares like expressing anger at social injustice). Malcolm Gladwell wrote in the New Yorker, "“Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice.” The people sitting on Twitter and Facebook are often not the ones participating. When the student protests occurred in Tehran, most of the social media posts about the protests originated in the West. That is because the people participating were all out protesting. A 'clicktivist' is not the same as an activist. While an activist has positive effects on society, clicktivism is an exercise in vanity and narcissism.
[P1] Social media outrage inspires people to become more engaged in politics. [P2] Increased political engagement has a positive effect on society. [P3] Therefore, social media has a positive effect on society.
Rejecting the premises
[Rejecting P1] Social media outrage does not lead to actual activism and political engagement.