Woke Ignorance: To Change And Back Again
Working and being, literally, amidst the social media landscape, it is incredibly easy to get lost within a spiral of trends, traits, and spookily, ‘truths’. Facebook groups, Instagram pages and Twitter trends provide the consumer, though unknowingly, with highly accessible echo chambers where it is exceptionally easy to get caught up in the most current social issue of the week, day or even hour.
We have seen it with the BLM Movement, the migrant crisis, Brexit, Trump’s impeachment and so on. For instance, my personal social media platforms were almost entirely consumed with anti-Brexit posts, petitions and a whole lot of angry 20-somethings expressing sheer rage about the prospect of an EU-less Britain. However, too soon after Brexit did the mood shift entirely, almost as if Brexit no longer existed. And onto the next social issue we moved; flip flopping from one to the next, with no real outcome. It is therefore, much too easy to get sucked into the world of social issues, fuelled by keyboard warriors with no real intention or attention span to make actual change. And this is where the term woke ignorance comes from.
Particularly amongst millennials and Gen Z, the phenomena of woke ignorance is increasingly common, as people readily become angry, but a lack of real care leads to these movements fizzling out.
So, what is to blame?
For one, social media itself has created a generation of people whose attention span is next to non-existent. Short-form videos, imagery and so on is designed to hold our attention for mere seconds, subconsciously making an impression. This has inadvertently resulted in attention spans which decreased by 50% amongst millennials and their seniors. Film and TV consumption has drastically decreased. Book and newspaper reading have followed the exact same pattern… “Give me a quick summary”, “a brief explanation of'' and so on are search terms that have adopted such prevalence in the past 20 years, perfectly illustrating the gradual disintegration of attention.
Coupled with this, many under 40 cannot even go an hour without checking their socials. The grim reality of social media addiction does not go amiss in this exploration of our woke ignorance. The rise of FOMO has resulted in people becoming obsessed with socials, participating in topical debates, absorbing the same content. As the internet is now the majority of the populations’ news source, a fast-paced, constantly evolving and ever-present reminder of the gruesome happenings in the world allows us to continuously be angry at one thing or another. Social media not only facilitates this but fuels it.
It is therefore easy for people to become engaged with social issues and debates. We are more connected than ever, but this in turn, creates a hotbed of people who perceive themselves as ‘woke’.
Ok, people think they are ‘woke’ because of social media and the spread of news, but how are they ignorant?
What may appear as a juxtaposed fallacy, the idea of woke ignorance comes about when one delves deeper into the information shared on social media and the amount of change that comes about from it – whether positive or negative.
The first and foremost is something that many of you will be aware of. Fake news. It is absolutely everywhere and inescapable. But as people become more aware of its existence, we can slowly begin to overcome its negative effect.
The latter, however, is the true measure of how ‘in the know’ we actually are.
Take BLM for instance. From something that essentially started on social media early last year (this example is limited to the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests), we hardly hear of it anymore on social media. From something that was the ‘hot’ and trending topic for about a month, it is surprising how little it is now talked about. We have gone from caring so much, to so little in the space of a few weeks. And this is not limited to BLM. You see it with almost every social issue discussed on these platforms.
And this is where the link between ‘woke’ and ignorance is forged.
Who is now fighting the corner for BLM? Is anyone calling for change of policies regarding the migrant crisis? What is going on with Brexit?!
Now I call this ignorance because the silence on issues which were once fervently explored and argued over, have been lost to a sea of issues that we essentially no longer care about. Something more important has come along, BLWhat? Oh, I’ve not even heard the word Brexit since before COVID. Even COVID at one point had been pushed to one side.
It is therefore vital to explore how little change has been inflicted by the conversations and debates held on the social landscape.
The futility of change
To change is futile. Now, this may be a little harsh considering we are amidst a global pandemic, but it is nonetheless important to consider. One might argue in times of great struggle come great things. But instead, it seems we have angered over massive issues, but not actually pushed for change. I think possibly the main reason for this is the idea of the virtue signaller. Social media has made us more aware of issues plaguing our society. But it has also created a perfect disguise for those who evidently don’t care. Resharing trending images, hashtags and so on continue to expose the falsity and vanity of today’s society. We have in essence, created a veneer of a caring society, which is, in fact the complete opposite. We are ignorant to the severity of issues. We are ignorant to the reasons behind such issues. And, we are ignorant to the power of attention and persistence.
We have lost sight of how to make a difference but being aware of this woke ignorance is a step to ensuring change is made.
To move beyond ‘woke ignorance’ is a seemingly impossible challenge. However, in order to combat the oh so harmful echo chamber, people need to be open to opinions. It is much too apparent no real debates occur within these digital prisons as alternative opinions are shut down by a frenzy of keyboard warriors or even deleted completely from the feed.
The first step therefore, is listening.
To listen to each other is to gage alternative opinions. Gain some perspective and begin to understand the other side rather than demonise it.
Instead of deleting someone from your news feed, explore their opinion and why they hold their convictions. This will either help you better understand where they are coming from, or solidify your position. Either way that is positive, right?
Theoretically, this should help combat the ‘woke’ element because people are opening their mind to the ‘opposition’ and helping combat the black and white dichotomy of our polarised society.
Secondly, research, research, research!
As I mentioned previously, research is essential in formulating educated opinions and combating the ever so prevalent, fake news. The more research people do into topics, the chances of decreasing mass ignorance increase exponentially. The hope is that the opinions shared on social media would subsequently become more informed, more balanced and slowly but surely iron out most of the creases.
And thirdly, actually do something to help!
This is probably the hardest solution to ‘woke ignorance’ because people don’t know where to start. However, petitions and community pages are a good place to start, especially during COVID. You are able to contribute towards a greater good by actually taking a stance on something, rather than just writing a status about it. For something that concerns the government, writing letters to MPs is relatively easy and also have a good chance of being raised within the Houses of Parliament. If you have a big following, use your platform for a good purpose. There are loads of ways you can contribute positively, that will actually move us towards progress. And it’s easier than you think.
So next time some clickbait entices you, one of your mates writes a juicy status about the Gammons that you cannot resist commenting “Tory scum” on, or you receive some unwanted comments on an image of BLM you reposted, take a step back and think about what can help the situation, rather than hinder it.
 Sophie Valentine, “The goldfish effect: why social media shortens our attention span”, 2020.  Ofcom, “ A decade of digital dependency”, 2018.
Amelia Marshall, Cohort 28, Junior Content Creator at Veo