I don’t know about the rest of you, but my Facebook and Twitter blew up yesterday. It hasn’t been since Steve Jobs died that so many of my friends and followers were all posting about the same thing. If you’ve been living under a social media rock (particularly possible if you gave up Facebook for Lent), then here’s the basics:
A non-profit activist group called Invisible Children released a campaign called Kony 2012 which is designed to increase awareness and drum up popular US support for the continued presence of US military advisors in Uganda whose aim is assisting the Ugandan army in capturing a nasty, evil warlord named Joseph Kony. The video IC released has had over 2.1 million hits – it went crazy viral.
Within a few hours of the video making its big hit, criticisms of the video, the Invisible Children organization, and all those who were supporting it went viral as well. I don’t want to get into all those discussions here (mostly because I’m still educating myself on the issue and trying to figure out the complexities of what those people really need), but there is one criticism I want to talk about:
There’s this trend I’ve noticed over the past year or so on both Facebook and Twitter that encourages the use of social media as a tool for activism. The idea is that sharing a video, status, or photo on your social media site somehow helps a greater cause to make the world a better place.
But does it really?
Often when I write these blogs I have a question in mind that I’m trying to answer. This time, I’m using the blog as a forum to ask the question.
Does social media activism really work?
The critics argue that sharing a post with a couple hundred of my friends doesn’t do much other than make me feel like I’ve done something good. In some ways, I agree with them. After all, does changing my Facebook status to my bra color really do anything at all to advance breast cancer research or help women who are suffering from breast cancer or even convince women to do self breast exams? Does sharing Invisible Children’s video about Joseph Kony really do anything to help heal the wounds of the families who have been terrorized by him or help get him out of power?
I just don’t know. I’d like to think that social media activism has a purpose and a place – that it does good. But I think that maybe I want to believe that because it’s just so darn easy. I don’t have to be uncomfortable or step outside my own little first world bubble to share a Facebook post or retweet a celebrity’s cause.
Yesterday I shared an article on my Facebook page about the Save the Storks program in Dallas. I did so because the program struck a chord with me – it seemed like these guys have got a great service going here and that they are doing some real positive good in terms of ministering to women who are considering abortion. I shared the article to raise awareness among my friends and followers about a great organization that I think is worthy of checking out.
Did it do any good? I don’t know – I’ll probably never know. And that’s really the thing with most social media activism. We just have no idea if it’s really effective or not.
I’m going to keep sharing posts and videos and photos in the hopes that it does some good – that somehow my engagement in social media can make the world a better place. But I’m not going to fool myself into believing that it’s enough. After all, Jesus didn’t call me to Social Media Activism, he called me to the Corporal Works of Mercy, and I can’t deny that I know these DO make a difference in our world – even if they make me uncomfortable or force me outside of my first world bubble on occasion.
But like I said, I’m not answering the question this time, I’m asking it. What do you think? Does social media activism make a difference? How could we use it more effectively?
For those who are interested in learning more about the LRA, Joseph Kony, Invisible Children and the situation in Uganda, The Guardian has a great continually updating blog post in which various politicians, economic experts, journalists, and African aid workers chime in from many different perspectives about what’s going on in Africa. I’m happy to see so much good coming out of Invisible Children, but until I have a better handle on exactly what’s going on, I’ll be sticking to supporting Caritas Uganda or Catholic Relief Services in Uganda. Both organizations have a strong positive history of helping people in this poor region of the world.