Today, the United States takes to the polls to change our country based on a hashtag. Activism has forever changed since Kony gripped us back in 2012.
A friend on Facebook recently posted a video of a kid, crying in his parents’ car, complaining about how the kids at school bully him. Call him names. Make him sad. It’s a touching piece. But it had been investigated in the past – the video’s not new – and it turns out that in good ol’ Tennessee, the kid’s parents were card-carrying bigots, there are pictures of the family waving Confederate flags, and that the reason that his school chums were picking on him was his flat-out refusal to stop using “the N-word.”
So, not that I’m a big fan of bullying, but if true, the kid kinda had it coming. Share the video a bunch of times without context and he looks to be the victim. Insert context here … and we’re on a different playing field.
There’s a fairly strong inclination towards armchair activism going on out there, with people either changing their Facebook profile pics or Twitter avatars, and, boom, all of a sudden, you’ve contributed to the discourse, the cause, the solution to the problem. And do I have to be the one to tell you that putting a rainbow flag over your Facebook profile pic is not, in fact, going to make it easier for gay people to get married? Or, saying “Je suis Charlie” is going to somehow take the sting out of the staff of Charlie Hebdo being slaughtered? Is that all it takes to end violent extremism? Luv, you’re not really helping.
But then again, you could be helping at the end of the day. Movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo have turned silence into activism, action and change in a way that others haven’t. And depending on how much impact it has today (Tuesday, July 30th), the shape of U.S. politics for the next two years could be significantly influenced by the #MarchForOurLives movement and bring about a #BlueWave. That remains to be seen.
It’s a sum of two parts, this activism bit. Let’s put aside the Arab Spring, which actually used social media to help people and bring about real change, and concentrate for a moment on the Kony2012 movement of, well, 2012.
The project was around a short documentary film made by the group Invisible Children, designed to market their “Stop Kony” movement – a movement designed to make Ugandan cult and militia leader Joseph Kony known all over the world in order to have him arrested by the end of 2012. This is a bad cat, right here. He was an indicted war criminal and a fugitive from the International Criminal Court.
You’d seemingly think that the cause, in and of itself, was something worth getting behind. Boy wizard Justin Bieber clicked “retweet” and the thing took off, and if that paragon of socio-political insight wants to get on board, you’d best be willing to go along with his 17 billion followers (numbers correct at time of publication).
But with great fame comes great scrutiny. The cynics among us (yes, I’m one of them, not sure if you could tell) saw clips of the video and figured it a trifle self-serving on the part of the maker, Jason Russell. But that’s where I left it; other news media outlets seemed to get a bit more … aggressive. Talking about how it was more than just self-promoting and self-aggrandizing, taking the situation in Africa and overly simplifying it to a degree that would make Waleed Aly’s and Jan Fran’s pre-taped exercises in condescension look serious and in-depth.
The scrutiny at the time got to the point where Russell himself snapped, dropped his pants, and was captured by TMZ cameras making furious love to himself on the streets of San Diego. The boys from South Park went to town on that one, with a song and everything. Brutal.
The video’s release has subsequently hung the albatross of “slacktivism” around the neck of Invisible Children; taking a complex, serious issue and oversimplifying it to the point where viewership, likes and clicks, is thought to be the equivalent of making a difference. We’re not here to say that children in the military is a good thing, but there’s a difference between sharing a slick video and actually helping a cause.
Causes and viral videos manifest themselves on social media all the time. The onus is on you, the clicktivist, to wade through the hype and determine whether or not what you’re passively-actively supporting is a cause worth your time, or clicks, or likes.
And keep in mind the fact that your local soup kitchen could use a volunteer or two.