Social media is a business.
In her book Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde names the truth that “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”
In other words, no system that is set up to control, oppress, and/or capitalize off of you is going to give you what you need to destroy it.
Not our education systems that reward obedience and getting things right while killing creativity.
Not our governments that continue to prioritize profits over protecting us from climate change.
And certainly not social media that is, at the end of the day, a group of publicly traded businesses.
Despite their potential—and community guidelines—social media apps are not neutral tools that have been created for your liberation.
A conversation I inevitably end up having with all of my writing and marketing clients is about the way I choose to use social media within the marketing work that I do with them.
I talk to them about the data that matters.
I talk to them about focusing on serving their chosen micro-community.
And I talk to them about the fact that Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and the like are businesses out to make a profit. The algorithms are set up to reward and make visible the content that will help these apps make the most money.
What’s more, they are businesses that we users have no control over.
So prioritizing building your business on top of another business that you have no control over is a bad business strategy.
What’s more, these platforms aren’t neutral. They control what can and can’t be shared. Posts get flagged and removed. Even when those posts are in the service of helping people wake up and do better.
The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.
I see a lot of frustration in the social justice community when it comes to the censoring of social media content. And while their frustration and anger is valid—these are important issues that need to be addressed—it’s vital to remember that social media apps are born of the patriarchal and capitalist systems that need to be redesigned.
We can’t rely on them to allow us to speak fully and loudly about what’s important to us. Even if they do provide us with the real and valid opportunity to connect to and build relationships with the people you want to serve.
Nor can we expect that they’ll be around forever.
The alternative to relying on social media to spread your message is to do work that matters. It’s to put less energy into understanding algorithms and more energy in getting clear on who it is you want to serve and then helping them.
It’s to set up your online and offline platform in such a way that even if Instagram disappeared tomorrow, people would find a way to connect to and learn from you.
Social media apps are businesses that you’re renting space from. And when they kick you out—or suffocate your work—because you’re making a ruckus about things that are important to you, there’s not much you can do about it.
So why not focus on what you do have control over?
Doing work that people will find a way to share.
Creating new spaces for people to gather.
Building new systems that support these connections.
One of the touchstones I have come back to for over a decade is this line from Paulo Friere’s book Pedagogy of the Oppressed:
“This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit, and rape by virtue of their power, cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both.”
If the tools we need to dismantle the systems that prevent us from being fully connected to our humanity and from doing our best work, then we need to design new tools.
So what tools, systems, and community do you need to create?