One year ago, the YouTube video “Kony 2012” captured the hearts and views of millions globally with its call to make the international war criminal Joseph Kony famous. The creators of the video, Invisible Children, sought to spur action through social media awareness. At the center of the campaign was an event called “Cover the Night,” where thousands would be called upon to post flyers and posters throughout their towns and communities to shed light on the unaddressed issue and highlight the need for action.
And at first, Kony 2012 seemed like a success; the movement’s momentum appeared unstoppable. Celebrities tweeted, tidal waves of cash flowed into charities and President Obama authorized a small task force to aid the Ugandan military in its efforts. Even in Princeton, a Facebook event titled “Cover the Night 2012: Princeton” had over 200 people planning on participating in the postering frenzy. One year ago, change was visible, and the call to end Kony seemed stronger than ever.
One year later, the movement is all but a distant memory.
In a recent ‘Prince’ column titled “On Internet Activism,” Shruthi Deivasigamani espoused the virtues of Internet activism, in light of the recent trend of red-and-pink equal sign profile pictures used to promote marriage equality on Facebook. In her column, she mentions how such online movements not only raise awareness but, more importantly, also accommodate our busy schedules.
Unfortunately, making political awareness something that we can quickly do on the go seems to hurt rather than help political and social causes by falling into the trap of “slacktivism”: a newly minted term used to describe “feel-good” actions done online for advocacy, such as liking a Facebook page or re-tweeting a YouTube video, with little social or political impact.
Through slacktivism, we fall into the trap of thinking that what we do on the Internet is enough. That like, that repost, that donation will solve our problems. While this form of change is certainly visible, it is fleeting. We forget about it as quickly as we advocated for it. I don’t deny that these movements show our beliefs about particular issues that we support. However, I’m skeptical that putting the lowest denominator of effort into these online movements will result in permanent change.
That’s not to say that Internet activism as a whole is ineffective or that it has always failed in the past. The use of social media during the Arab Spring — when the Internet was used as a forum for discussion, a place to plan protests and as a megaphone to the global community — is a perfect example of how Internet activism can have real, impactful and permanent effects. Still, it was only through the protests in Cairo or Tripoli that many Arab countries were not only able to make change visible but also permanent.
I just find it hard to believe that, as college kids, posting a new profile picture on Facebook or sharing a video is going to have a real and meaningful impact. Sure, a few might look up the two cases that were before the Supreme Court or all of your friends will change their profile pictures; however, few to none will be inspired to pick up the picket sign and march on the steps of D.C. Those are the ones who started posting the pictures in the first place. Like it was alluded to in Deivasigamani’s article, we are busy people with busy lives. However, we get what we put into these social movements. When our only form of activism is clicking a link, we cannot expect our change to last, especially when our target group is so small.
At least personally, most of our Facebook friends are around the same age, come from a similar upbringing and most likely share similar beliefs on social issues. Although a nice sign of solidarity, are we really reaching anyone new? Particularly with gay marriage, which was supported by 81 percent of those between 18 and 29 in a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, it seems like a stretch to claim that this equality campaign is going to cause our Facebook friends to reevaluate their views. Instead of rigorously debating, we like or comment on something already widely supported and then move on with our lives. Once again, I don’t think this is a bad thing. In fact, I think it’s great that our society is much more open and tolerant than it was a decade, or even a few years, ago.
However, to be able to spur real debate, we need to reach out beyond our comfort zones. That’s not to say that we have to march on Washington or pick up a picket sign; however, simply calling your local congressman or writing a letter to the editor can make meaningful steps in the right direction. While our Internet actions may cause visible change, they will never be permanent unless we take action beyond the web. Tacit approval alone is not change. Just ask Joseph Kony.
Benjamin Dinovelli is a freshman from Mystic, Conn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2013/04/08/32766/