This summer, as I scrolled through my Instagram and I watched people’s stories, I saw people posting pictures feverously about Sudan, Yemen, Rhinos, the Amazon, etc. I suddenly got flashbacks and began to cringe as all these campaigns reminded me of Kony 2012 – an online video campaign to raise awareness of the war crimes of Kony, a Ugandan militia owner. I was hoping these campaigns would be different, but the further I looked the more I was disturbed. Before I continue, I think it is important to note that there is a way to participate in internet activism that is productive. Many of these problems are real and there is a way to help, but this summer was an example of what not to do.
I think my biggest problem is the disingenuous nature of many of these campaigns. All summer I saw “one share = one meal” or something in a similar vein that promises something costing money in exchange for you simply posting whatever pic they wanted. There’s the old expression of “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”, this was no less true in many of these campaigns. Many of these campaigns would cap their donation at something considerably small compared to the perceived donation that these posts would theoretically give. Some of these campaigns simply would not even show ways to help. They would show you gruesome pictures, like rhino poaching or starving children, then not offer any links to an organization that was addressing the problem. Then these posts would be shared over and over again with many believing to be helping while really not making any difference whatsoever. While this brought attention to issues, they left no space for anyone to meaningfully contribute.
My second problem was awareness alone changes nothing. This kind of works in two veins. The first is what was Kony suffered with, identifying a solution and constructively addressing the problem. Many people wanted a solution to Sudan, but it has been a problem from years. Like Kony we find out simply throwing money a problem doesn’t solve anything. It’s not like we hadn’t tried to address Sudan in the past; George Clooney literally spent millions nearly ten years ago to send a satellite to track the actions of Sudan’s dictator, yet he continues a reign of terror. Kony 2012 raised millions of dollars yet found no real solution, as his forces had been already shrunk to irrelevance, and Kony remains at large to this day. The other vein follows this vague idea that attention equals a response from someone. Many tried to justify their posts this summer saying, “I know posting won’t directly help, but it spreads awareness.” Awareness alone changes nothing. We can all be aware of an issue, like climate change, but if we do nothing except post about it and take no real action, then it was just a waste of time and the problem still exists.
There is a way to avoid falling into the mob of “slacktivism”, activism focused on making one feel better about their contribution rather than making a meaningful contribution. Far from the be all end all of activism, social media is just the beginning. What might be more productive is showing organizations that actually address these issues and supporting them or showing how one can contribute via a petition or lifestyle choices that make change. Crucially, it is not the end; you have to go out and donate or try to make a change. Go volunteer, write a letter to your politician, or go and do something.
I’m not here to tell you how to live your life, but I know problems exist all over the globe and I want to do something about it. Simply shouting problems into the void of the internet does nothing, and if we really cared we would stand up and do something about it. We need to quit looking for the magic bullet solution and look for where the hard work can begin. We can focus on how to try to get aid to those who need it, how to protect the environment in our everyday lives, and how we as individuals can change the world rather than blending into the crowd of shouting in problems at each other.
- Jordan Hunter