Two weeks have passed since the whirlwind Kony2012 campaign invaded our Facebook timelines and Twitter feeds, and where does the effort stand? According to a tracking of twitter hashtag #kony2012, posts supporting the capture of Joseph Kony have given way to quips over founder Jason Russell’s mental breakdown, spambots trying to capitalize on a popular hashtag and questions of where all the supporters have gone. In the end, the International Criminal Court is no closer to arresting Kony and an effort that seemed so promising at launch has fizzled into little more relevancy than other viral sensations of yore, such as ‘planking’ and the ‘leave Britney alone’ kid.
Unfortunately, most efforts at social media activism tend to end this way. I’ve noticed a five step cycle that most campaigns seem to experience: (1) Cause Discovery, (2) Fervent Support, (3) Dramatic Plunge in Engagement, (4) Disgrace (see Jason Russell) (5) Irrelevance. While this cycle isn’t exclusive to social media activism, it is most upsetting to see something with actual real world consequences so easily disregarded when the championed cause is no closer to achieving its goals than when the first tweet was sent out.
Social Media offers us the platform to make our voices heard. Unfortunately the flip-side of this tremendous tool is that we do so in a very safe environment and are no longer held accountable for our actions. Our natural reaction to most causes championed in social media campaigns is that we should offer help. We sympathise with the victims, and truly wish that we could do something to help lift them out of the tragedies that are turning their lives upside down. In response to this call to action, we tweet…and we join Facebook groups, maybe if we’re super ambitious we’ll write a blog about it. But where do we take it from there? More often than not we feel satisfied that we’ve done our part by joining the conversation and acknowledging we recognize what the victims in a particular situation are going through. As if we were able to make a significant impact in 140 characters without actually offering any financial aid or volunteering our time and effort to the cause, but the sad reality is, we haven’t.
Aside from Kony2012, in the past two years earthquakes have devastated Haiti and Asia Pacific. A tsunami has completely ravaged Japan, causing a nuclear powerplant to be compromised and tornados have come close to wiping entire towns in the midwestern United States off the map. We’ve all read about it, possibly even offered our condolences via social media, but have we done anything to help? To this day people are still trying to rebuild their homes and locate family members, but the support they’re getting from the outside world seems to be shrinking by the minute, as their misfortunes are replaced by the next cause of the week.
In the end, activism requires action. It requires commitment if it is to actually better the scenario in question. This cannot be done via your Facebook photo. Not to say supporting a cause via social media is a bad thing, but there has to be a real world component as well for it to be successful. Just like any digital campaign, its great to get people talking about your cause but what’s the intrinsic value of the conversation if it isn’t leading towards a solution?
I believe there is a space out there right now for the right individual to develop a system that prods people into doing more than typing their support. Sure sites like Fundly are giving the not-for-profit sector a real presence on Social Media, but there has to be more. As mentioned earlier, social media is among the most valuable innovations in the realm of spreading information ever invented. If we’re able to find a way to capitalize on its potential, we will truly make positive strides towards a better world.