I am one who deeply appreciates seasonably appropriate weather, so when fair-weathered, sunny days saturated the months of this past winter, I rebelled against mother nature’s ‘gifts’ and sought comfort in the solitude of my chilly NYU dorm room, doing what we as members of the youth living in a digital age do to remedy our boredom: I Facebooked. Yes I did, indeed, just use the social network(ing) site as a verb, and I further digress, but I find it important to paint a picture of where and when it was that I was suddenly “attacked” by social media. I had spent countless hours on the site one not-so-cold winter night “stalking” and scoping my activity feed for the perfect opportunity to leave some kind of witty comment that would make clear to my own networks, whoever it was that was potentially reading my comments, that my sense of humor was intact. Alas, such opportune posts on which to achieve this were scarcely found, and as I traversed my ‘feed’, my screen was suddenly inundated with the words KONY2012. The variety that was once characteristic of this social space was suddenly replaced with the uniform. This, in combination with the sudden realization that I did not seem to know some of my closest friends as well as I thought I had (seeing as how they turned out to be part-time, under-cover social activists all deciding to “come out” at the same time), married to instill a strange anxiety within me. In hindsight, as a social media student I was both annoyed and, admittedly, impressed at how the “Kony 2012 Movement” was able to exploit the necessary desire that we as social beings using digital media possess to “write ourselves into being” (danah 129). Gone were the days when visual evidence, pictures from our latest “Habitat for Humanity” effort in a far away country, immersed in wildlife or orphanages, were necessary in order to garner the title “humanitarian”.
Truth be told, I am obviously one for the dramatics; I suppose my reaction to the campaign was, in reality, not so heated or emotional. And, contrary to the impression of myself that I have just earned, I shared in the collective sympathy and emotional reactions to the viral video. My Facebook page, however, went unchanged. Why? As a student of social media networking, I understood that doing so would serve as an intentional attempt at painting myself as a social and political activist. Those who had posted in my newsfeed, however, may not have had the same understanding of the ramifications of sharing such a post, while others, conversely, may have understood full well the art of “writing oneself into being”, shared with an acute intentionality of consequently titling oneself a “humanitarian”.
Iman Baghai, a high school Junior of Issaquah, Washington, writes in celebration of the “Movement” in the Teens section of huffingtonpost.com, naming it the “first real social media movement to capture everyone’s attention in the West”, further emphasizing the success as a shift in gears away from our luxurious Apple products. The statistics, she argues, are undeniable; the video was viewed over 67 million times on Youtube within the first five days, and has gained over 15 million more views on the site to date. As a teen, herself, Baghai’s article is in a way a self-reflection on the community to which she participates; teens in the US engaging with each other using digital media, as well as an engagement with the medium itself. She writes, “over the past week, we have witnessed youth utilizing social media to bring forth an issue to the forefront of conversation.” The rest of her piece, however, is dedicated to an opposing side to the debate surrounding the Kony2012 movement. Her delineation of this argument without doubt echoes numerous assertions made by danah boyd in her piece “Why Youth <3 Social Network Sites”.
In her work “Why Youth <3 Social Network Sites”, danah boyd quotes Jenny Sunden: people must learn to write themselves into being; doing so makes visible how we take the body for granted. Luckily for my activist friends, the genius in Kony2012 was in its ability to mask this ‘visibility’ of which boyd speaks; in other words, echoing my earlier rant, establishing oneself to their Friends as an activist did not require a photo album dedicated to highlighting visibly their tireless labors, but afforded this very title to those who simply ‘copied’ and ‘pasted’ a link to their profiles. According to boyd, building a public profile is an act of socialization into the digital age, a “mechanism by which teens can signal information about their identities and tastes” (128). She argues, “because of [the] direct link between offline and online identities, teens are inclined to present the side of themseves that they believe will be well received by [their] peers” (129). It is my own assumption that many of these Friends in my newsfeed posting about Kony2012 do not themselves have stores of photographs which tell the story of their other humanitarian endeavors; the Movement, as it seems to me, was able to partner with the technology itself, affording Facebook users the ability to share with their networks a facet of their being that they had been previously unable to solidify because of a lack of evidence. In this case, Kony2012 provided evidence in making “sharing” and incredibly touching, well-made video the only necessary labor or barrier of entry into this newly forming group of activists.
It did not take long, however, for the Kony2012 to lose strength in its foundation; the searchability and persistence that boyd also introduces (boyd 126) allowed for researchers to shed light on a few less-than-moral practices made by the Invisible Children foundation, even before the campaign’s video was finished. In November of 2011, Foreign Affairs magazine published an article revealing that several organizations, one of which being Invisible Children, manipulated facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of the LRA abductions and murders.” It also lost some support when it was made public that only 30 percent of its contributions were going to the efforts in Uganda. Baghai reflected in her article, be careful and do research before [we] donate to a charity to ensure [our] money is being well-utilized.” She continues her effort at self-reflection: even after a very arousing tale, a video being “liked” by all our Facebook friends, and Oprah tweeting about it, you still must check your facts.