The month of June brought with it a lot of noteworthy events and stories, from net neutrality going into effect to controversies surrounding national surveillance programs. But perhaps the most historic and significant among them happened last Friday, with the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling that broadens the definition of marriage to include members of the LGBT community nationwide. After decades of pushing against a seemingly impenetrable wall, the change came as a reaffirmation that change and justice are on their way. But perhaps President Obama put it best:
Progress on this journey often comes in small increments. Sometimes two steps forward, one step back, compelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens. And then sometimes there are days like this, when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt. - Barack Obama, on Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage
And what a thunderbolt it was. for hours and days celebrations sprang up everywhere from New York to San Francisco marking a day and a decision that would go down in history as one of the nation’s triumphs in social justice. But while parades and songs rang through the streets outside, an equally widespread and colorful celebration unfolded online, across social media and news outlets. Within several minutes of the final ruling, Facebook exploded with high-quality stock images and low-fi GIFs celebrating the change, and #LoveWins began overtaking Twitter and Instagram. It wasn’t long thereafter that both individuals and brands incorporated rainbow filters to their logos and profiles, and Facebook even released a tool to help you celebrate with the rest of the millions of people online, by coating your profile picture in rainbow filters.
But while the Internet’s celebration of the federal court’s decision was heard far and wide, it’s always had a vital and driving role to play in the gay rights movement. As legal battles were fought in courtrooms and the media, YouTube became a platform for coming out and for the rest of the community to encourage and work with one another in support. Twitter became a place to amplify your thoughts to the rest of the world, and Facebook became a way of telling your stories and sharing others’ struggles to move the community forward, increase awareness, and push for change. The Internet, now over two billion strong and growing fast, became one of the most powerful and empowering ways for everyone to join in on a movement for social justice, and it’s clearly played a big role in accelerating the movement and pushing it this far. There’s still certainly room to grow – social justice is a continual struggle of pushing the boundaries – but online communities stand at the forefront of that activism.
But in talking about how online entities affected the rest of the world, we often use the phrase “real-world”, referring to the world outside of the “cyberspace”. Friends on Facebook may not be “real-life” friends; gaming communities are not “real-life” communities, and some might even go so far as to say that harassment or other mischief online isn’t as serious as “real-life” crimes. But I think the argument that things that happen on the Internet is real life is especially relevant here, when bits of electrons traveling through copper wires around the world are making changes that are not only relevant, but making history. I mean in no way to minimize the effort of the individuals who fought for change in courtrooms and in the streets, but if a community of leaders and followers can work together to push for a change affecting millions of people and rewriting the law of the United States, that community, regardless of where it stands in the spectrum of digital to analogue, is real.
People with new ideas and people with changes they want to see in the world are always going to find their best ways to reach new audiences, and until the next great revolution in information technology comes along, that platform for pushing for change and breathing life into new ideas is going to be online, on the Internet. And I think it’s time we let it graduate from the “non-IRL” status we’ve forced it into for so long. The Internet might appear to be little more than some advanced morse code of electrons sending cat pictures and animated GIFs back and forth, but those same electronic bits are also realizing the future that we want to live in and propelling both culture and society forward. Within the cloud of digital information, real people are pushing for and creating real changes that affect millions of other real people. And while the words and images that move things along in the process may exist in a different reality than the one our bodies physically occupy, they’re ultimately linked together in a way that advances both into the future, and I’m glad to be living in that double reality.
Oh, and happy pride, Internet.
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