Kony2012 and youth “activism” via SNS

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 ❤ Social Network Sites”.

In her work “Why Youth ❤ 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.

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18 Comments

  1. lauraportwoodstacer

     /  April 1, 2012

    Great reflection, Joey! I really like how you were able to link social activism and self-presentation here.

    Reply
  2. anglas412

     /  April 9, 2012

    I watched, I sobbed, I shared the Kony 2012 video on Facebook like the more than 60 million other people who did as well; does my simple click of the “share” button make me a faux-activist? A wannabe? A hoax? I think not. I understand your stance against people branding themselves as activists when their actions (or lack thereof) do not qualify them to be labeled as such. I do think, however, that the backlash that many people I know, myself included, received for re-posting this viral video is uncalled for.
    I agree with you that we must dig deeper and check the facts of a story before taking a stance on it. This story (or video rather) may have exaggerated statistics, as you said, to strengthen it’s point but at the end of the day, does that make this cause less worthy of backing? Maybe Invisible Children is not the best place to funnel our donations, but at least they did their part by bringing about awareness to the issue so that we, the viewers and decision makers, can take a stand and find the best ways in which we can reach out and make a difference. Sure, clicking “share” may not put a stop to a rebel army in Africa, but it does show one thing: awareness. This video that has gotten so much slack, may not succeed in its initial purpose, but it did succeed in becoming spreadable and drillable, as Henry Jenkins puts it in his article, in the minds of the youth who will one day have the resources to become legitimate activists.

    Reply
  3. emmaleecough

     /  April 9, 2012

    I think your point about painting oneself as a “humanitarian” becoming all too simple in the modern technological age was well put. This idea of “slacktivism,” or lazily promoting a cause while thinking you’re actually helping, is a growing notion developed after Kony 2012 caught a buzz. I read the comment posted before me by “anglas412” and understand her point about the backlash from the video neglecting the fact that awareness can bring about change, but can’t help but side with Joey on this one. Although it is true that someone could watch this viral video and then donate a ton of money or actually go to Africa and try to volunteer, but if we’re purely looking at numbers here, how many of the 67 million viewers really did that? We can live in the “what-if” mentality and hope that all of those people who viewed the video are truly going to fight for change, but I am a realist…and realistically, mere awareness doesn’t change anything. Successful activist efforts and charities are able to make change but transitioning awareness into action, something the Kony 2012 campaign was sorely lacking. Just getting someone to copy and paste a link isn’t really driving progressive action, but simply “actively” creating more awareness. The company could’ve used the buzz they caught to help organize volunteer groups and petitions to further promote their cause, a plan that would’ve subsequently fleshed out the “real” activists from the slacktivists…but they didn’t. Although I believe that anglas412 felt as if they were making a difference by shedding light on an important issue, I can’t help but feel as if the only difference made was an increase in Invisible Children’s fame. It is important to not simply view this from an educated class of students in a liberal metropolitan city perspective, but also from the perspective of the average American. I would love to know what percentage of Justin Bieber’s fans and Oprah’s followers forwarded the Kony 2012 message, and would be even happier to know how many of them even know what country the kidnappings were taking place in. Realistically, an uninformed public helped spawn much of this “movement” and that’s probably why it’s lost momentum (proving itself to be merely a cultural fad) as quickly as it gained speed.

    Reply
  4. sammcsmt

     /  April 11, 2012

    Joey,
    I really enjoyed reading your post because you made a lot of points that I felt I could relate to. Firstly, your comment about not knowing your friends as well as you thought you had was interesting because I honestly felt the same way. When Facebook aggregated the 20 or so people who had posted about Kony into one section of my newsfeed, I looked through all the names and could easily pick out people that I was 100% positive weren’t very informed about the issue and posted it for the mere fact that everyone else was (I say this because a few people I know have actually admitted to this). It reminded me of boyd’s article in which a teenage interviewee stated that there was no good excuse for not being on Facebook; if everyone else is pressing COPY, PASTE, and SEND to share the video, then why not jump on the band wagon if it’s that simple? I also thought about the part of boyd’s article that you mentioned about teens being inclined to present the side of themselves that they believe will be best received by their peers; I think this behavior extends beyond teens. I’m confident in saying that a decent amount of people shared the video for the simple reason that “everyone else was doing it”. Maybe I’m being skeptical or cynical, but like Emily, I refuse to believe that all 67+ million viewers even watched all 30 minutes, let alone made the decision to further take part in the cause. Truthfully, I’m one of “those people” who hasn’t seen the Invisible Children video in its entirety nor have I posted anything about it on any of my social media pages. That’s not to say I wasn’t sympathetic towards the situation. Like you, I didn’t want to appear to be in such extreme support of the video as others on my newsfeed. However, at the same time, I was a bit worried about being judged for not posting the video. I felt that people I interact with regularly in my online social networks might think I was A) uninformed, living under a rock or B) a heartless bitch who didn’t care about the children of Africa. The fact that I even considered this consequence, along with my instinct that there aren’t 67+ million legitimate views, leads me to believe that teens aren’t the only ones trying to portray their best performance on the web.

    Reply
    • lillianzepeda

       /  April 20, 2012

      I agree, the Kony 2012 video spread like wildfire because teens are eager to self-present online. And Invisible Children has long been building a supporter base among teens, who are gullible and avid social media users.

      It only appeared on my Facebook news feed once (which attest to danah boyd’s observation that Kony 2012 was aimed towards a White audience), so I can’t say I felt any anxiety about reposting or not reposting. However, when, from one day to the next, everyone was talking about this video and how urgent it was that we help capture Kony, I couldn’t help but remember Carol Travis’ essay, “In Groups We Shrink”, where she discusses the bystander effect that took over 38 witnesses of Kitty Genovese’s murder just a few blocks away from my home.

      But this media event shows no symptoms of the bystander effect. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Teen Facebook users actively posted, watched and liked the video, accomplishing Invisible Children’s goal of raising awareness.

      So how was the speedy and wide spread of the Kony 2012 video groupthink?
      I think it’s a cyber version of what Susan Cain calls “The New Group Think”. We’re so over stimulated by all the teamwork and collaboration we’re encouraged to participate in that we no longer think creatively, critically and for ourselves.

      Yes, we’re alone on our laptops, but the voices of our dozens of Facebook friends circle our thoughts constantly. So, if one thought leader, or in this case, one of the popular kids, posts Kony 2012, then dozens of more posts will follow.

      Reply
  5. This is a great analysis of the KONY2012 fad and I really appreciate the questions you raise. One thing you do not really mention that I think is an interesting aspect of this whole ordeal is the idea of ‘fitting in’ or sharing common interests among social networks. One reason several high school students (and probably adults) shared this video is for the sake of being part of something. Just like when a celebrity dies or an important bill is passed, people on social network sites want to be a part of an event, share their thoughts, or just prove that they are “in the know.” From my experience with this whole campaign, I saw that several of my Facebook friends sharing the video and changing their profile picture to KONY2012 posters were first of all pretty ignorant people to begin with but also just interested in the whole fad. I’m not sure many of these people wanted to identify themselves as activists, they just want to be popular. One issue I have with your post, and the response to this movement in general, is the lack of optimism. There are several problems with this whole situation and it will probably never be perfect, but Invisible Children was extremely successful in raising awareness about a huge issue via social media. I think people are so quick to criticize that they completely ignore the potential benefits of the movement.

    Reply
  6. christinechoucair

     /  April 15, 2012

    Your post brings up the complexities of social media that we face and yet as users, may not even be aware of. Kony 2012 gave people, specifically teens, a reason to feel needed. Its high-quality, colorful and humanistic features captured our attention, allowing us to transform, as you say, into online activists. Suden’s comment on how we take the body for granted, introduces not only your point about masking the ‘visibility,’ but also the consequences of dividing the virtual world from the physical world in terms of activism. If this widely successful video is simply a fad, what does that say for future online activism? Have the wrong expectations been set? Especially with Kony’s loss of strength, it is worrisome that activism in our “virtual” life could be overshadowing activism in our “real” life. I use the term “real” becuase as you point out, there is an affordance online to create the best possible version of yourself – one that might stretch the truth. This isn’t to dismiss the Kony 2012 button on someone’s bag or the serious conversation held over lunch break, but rather to focus on the consequences of “giving people action,” as Veronica Pinto says, online. Is the action to like, retweet, copy and paste? Is it to form an identity? What does it take to overcome these two simple actions and re-enter the tangible world? I remember my friend saying that she kept seeing Kony 2012 but didn’t know what it meant. This could be both positive (awareness was high) and negative (people who don’t have access to social media are not part of the conversation). It would be interesting to study Kony 2012 in relation to other foundations like Susan G. Komen, that weren’t born on the Internet but used it only to increase awareness. Is there hope for campaigns like Kony 2012 in the “real” world?

    Reply
  7. danirait

     /  April 18, 2012

    Hey Joey,
    Great post! I really like how you acknowledged that posting the Kony2012 was a way of “painting” oneself as a social and political activist. As you said, before the copy and paste function existed the only way to justify your humanitarian title was by posting pictures of you actually doing something that could make a difference. Now, retweeting a link can establish someone as an activist. What I wonder, though, is is this a good or bad thing? To the common people it may be annoying or misleading if people who had never done charity work in their life posted the Kony 2012 video as their status, but for the actual organizations, don’t they want any sort of support they can get? So many people are trying to separate “awareness” and “action”, and how “awareness” isn’t really accomplishing what these social movements set out to do. Although this may be true, and all 67 million viewers on YouTube most definitely may not have taken action, I think social movements do value awareness even if some “aware” people do not do anything about it. Some awareness is better than no awareness, so I think social movements value SNS as a tool to spread the word, even if those who spread it may not be fully dedicated to the cause.

    Reply
  8. rosalietinelli

     /  April 18, 2012

    I just want to start off by saying I truly enjoyed the way that this was written. I’m not going to lie; I’m usually one of those people who looks for the shortest blog to talk about, but your first paragraph engaged me and I selected this one.
    I have been consistently interested in this whole idea that everything we post on Social Networking Sites is a performance, and I definitely agree that much of this so-called humanitarian activism speaks to that idea. The KONY2012 video inundated my newsfeed and twitter feed, and to be honest, I’m almost certain none of the people who posted it watched the full half hour. I myself had the attention span of about 10 seconds before I was bored and decided that I would Google the platform instead. These people were performing, they wanted their friends to think of them as activists, as people who were genuinely concerned about these African Children. And perhaps they were, I mean, nobody is going to say that kids should be turned into soldiers and sexual objects, but they didn’t do anything further than share this video. My friends showed their concerns, but I only know of one person who actually donated.
    On top of that, I know of people who specifically did NOT donate. They would post things like “we can’t do anything about KONY, who gives a shit anyway.” I think it is important to note the obvious performance going on there. It is similar to people who post “NOT watching the Super Bowl” or “who cares about the Grammy’s?”. These people are all looking for a specific reaction, or to be seen in a certain light. Instead of using platforms like KONY2012 to actually help KONY, they are using KONY2012 to look a certain way. I shared a humanitarian video, so I must be a humanitarian.

    Reply
  9. carolinepsayer

     /  April 18, 2012

    Joey,
    I thought your points about writing ourselves into being were extremely interesting. I think this idea connects a lot to slacktivism. As social media users, we present ourselves in a certain manner, usually some better version of ourselves. So why wouldn’t we want to present ourselves as being a person eager to get involved in a good cause, fighting for children’s rights around the world. We can say that we support a cause virtually, all the while painting a beautiful image of ourselves, while never having to physically do anything in the real world. If becoming “involved” and “supporting” a cause is as easy as clicking a button or watching a video, I’m frankly a little surprised that more people didn’t jump on the Kony bandwagon. Not to overlook the people who actually do get involved and make a difference by actively participating in organizations like Invisible Children, but it seems that the platform that slacktivism thrives upon – social networking sites – sure makes a lot of people suddenly turn into activists.

    Reply
  10. Great post, Joey! I know exactly what you mean when you say you were both annoyed and impressed with the video. I was actually first exposed to the backlash before I watched the actual video. There were articles circulating around my news feed that called the video out on the over exaggerated statistics, oversimplification of facts, and dubious activity of the Invisible Children organization, so having read those articles, I decided to watch the video to see what all the fuss was about. Like you said, as a media student watching the video, I was really impressed with how they successfully achieved making this 30 minute video about social activism go viral. But there was another part of me that was really peeved by the way they focused more on manipulating emotions and appealing to the whole “white man’s burden” rhetoric rather than presenting actual facts. When he started explaining the situation with his son, I was like, “Really? He’s doing the ‘explain it to me like I’m 5’ tactic as his means of informing the audience?” But I guess a big part of why the video was able to go viral is because, in our age of getting the news through sound-bites, the “explain it to me like I’m 5” tactic is the only thing that gets through.

    Although I, too, am skeptical about posting activism as a means of taste performance, I do think the first step to making any kind of difference is spreading awareness, and the Kony 2012 video certainly achieved that. To be perfectly honest, I had no idea who Joseph Kony was until the video went viral, and I’m sure I was far from the only one. The fact that not only the video went viral, but the backlash as well that stated the inaccuracies of the video, also shows that people aren’t just mindlessly clicking the “send” button and going on blind faith that what they are watching is true. There are people out there that will look into the cause, and call out any false information.

    Reply
  11. Amanda Au

     /  April 19, 2012

    Finally, someone who will admit they didn’t share the KONY video after seeing their friends post about it! Like you, Joey, I didn’t really take notice of KONY until I saw it being repeatedly retweeted on my Twitter feed. But at that point, I figured it was just another dumb YouTube video of a cat so I didn’t bother clicking through to find out more. (Funny side story: When I saw the hashtag #StopKONY a day later, I thought it was backlash from people who were annoyed by this dumb “KONY” video. Guess not!) It wasn’t until I came across an article in the New York Times about KONY that I finally had my “ohhh” moment. So being the responsible media student that I am, I sat and watched the whole video to see what it was about. I was of course touched by the video (I’m not cold hearted), but I wasn’t dumb either. After watching, all I could think in my head was “oh great, it’s going to be like the Obama campaign all over again.” I didn’t share the video, not because I didn’t believe that Joseph Kony is a truly horrible person, but because I knew my friends weren’t the type to participate in things like this; if I had share it, it would only appear as an insincere attempt to jump on the bandwagon and my friends would see right through that, as would many other people within their own group of friends. What annoys me most about the KONY campaign and many like it is that it turns very serious issues into a more menial matter by shifting the spotlight on the campaign’s “success” (i.e. the number of times it has been viewed) rather than the actual issue it was trying to present.

    Reply
  12. I completely agree with your point that a lot of the recycled SNS activity over KONY 2012 was a result of taste-making as opposed to social activism. The only counter argument I’d like to make is that the conclusion you draw seems to overlook a lot of the other factors. or other “facets of their being,” at play that causes a flood of non-activists to suddenly share this KONY video. For me personally, when I watched the video, it completely entranced me emotionally–I didn’t factor in the historical or political contexts of Joseph Kony or LRA (which, as you’ve pointed out, was a huge factor that discredited a lot of the video. But anyway,) I was simply sold. Sold solely by its emotional weight. So, almost reacting on impulse, I shared the video. I think this experience might challenge your argument in that not everyone–evidently me and I’d say most people as well–was conscious enough to share the video as a testament or a showcase of their social activism. I think where your argument applies is stepping back and looking at the KONY 2012 social media activity as a collective. The KONY bandwagon then starts to become a trend, a brand, an icon and therefore a taste-marker, but I wouldn’t say that individual sharers of the video were necessarily conscious of their self-branding as activists.

    Reply
  13. So I was able to spend some time with my family over this past weekend. At any given time, one could find at least one of the four of us with eyes transfixed on a TV screen (we never got the message that too much TV will hurt your eyes, fry your brain, etc.). Luckily, with a TV in almost every room, there is little competition or argument over how we choose to engage with the medium. A lover of cinema, I spent a day in its entirety curled up on the couch with Girl Scout cookies watching “Pretty Woman” and the entire “Transformers” trilogy (obviously I have diverse tastes), while my little brother shouted into his headset and violently shook whatever he could get his hands on as he played “Call of Duty” in the adjacent room. He doesn’t judge my practices, nor I his; it’s just entertainment. How we choose to satisfy our desire to be entertained, and the price we are willing to pay for it (mine being gaining 3421543 pounds from several boxes of Girl Scout cookies), are decisions that we make, weighing heavily the costs and benefits of our practices. When I think of the KONY2012 movement, and the viral video at the core of its popularity, I can’t help but think of it as entertainment. My attitude toward those who chose to watch the video (and share it) is similar to my attitude toward my brother screaming at the TV; I make no judgments. However, as a student of media (with an obligation to this blog), I stand firmly behind the observations I’ve made in the original post, and I offer this anecdote as a means of highlighting another facet that I think we’ve skipped over in the discourse surrounding KONY2012…it’s entertaining.
    Again, I love a good movie (and love, equally, those that smell of cheese and bad acting), and when I sat and watched the half-hour video, I was touched, I was angry, I was sad, and I was hopeful. It was as if I had just watched a movie in a theater, a great movie at that, and living in a capitalist society, we are well-aware of the notion that nothing is free. The price for our entertainment? Reposting the video. In his article for the “New Yorker” called “Small Change,” Gladwell challenges the notion that “social networks are particularly effective at increasing motivation.” He counters, “social networks are effective at increasing participation, by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires.” In our example of the KONY2012 movement, using Facebook and YouTube as a means of spreading an entertaining video was genius, in that we know that we must pay to be entertained. The cost for consuming the video, and thus the heart-wrenching story it tells, is a simple click of a button. Were the medium to not exist, and one had seen the short film in theaters, would they then be inclined to pick up the phone and share this story with everyone in their extended networks? After all, the supposed mission of the film was to “make KONY famous.” I highly doubt that a lot of phone calls would be made. “Facebook activism succeeds not by motivating people to make a real sacrifice but by motivating them to do the things that people do when they are not motivated enough to make a real sacrifice” (Gladwell).
    It would be a bit heartless of me to challenge the message and overall content of the video, and this post (and my original post) was in no way doing so. But I think sharing the video was analogous to me posting “May the odds be ever in your favor” after I’ve just returned from seeing “Hunger Games.” It was a conscious decision that I made to not only share that I’ve just seen, and PAID, for the movie, but it gives me social capital in that everyone in my network can see clearly my taste for the film (and potentially films of a similar narrative or aesthetic) and I’ve suddenly included myself in a larger discourse surrounding the media object. By reposting the video, I feel like claims were being made (whether conscious or sub) about one’s preference for these kinds of socially aware media objects, while simultaneously suggesting that this conversation is one that they engage with in the ‘physical’ world, or even on other social media platforms. I spoke on the phone with a friend/Friend of mine who had just shared the video, and not once had it come up in our conversation. Hashtag: just saying.
    Again, using Facebook and YouTube as a means of generating awareness was genius, and I think that it’s goals for “making KONY famous” were undoubtedly achieved. Awareness and visibility is always the first step. But I do think that the success of the movement (which, so far, has only been awareness) was founded in our desire to establish our identity. The man at the center of the video is just as famous as the video itself. By sharing the video, we perform our distaste for the man, and our taste for the film. Life is a stage; we yearn to be entertained and are thrilled to perform.

    Reply
  14. Joey,
    I loved when you wrote “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.’” I remember in high school when it became an actual trend for kids to pay a few thousand dollars to fly to another country to do some community service, and more importantly, to get their photos of them holding a foreign child to post on their Facebooks. Sure, some people did this because they really cared about helping the less fortunate, but others did it to boost their college resumes and their altruistic images online. But the point is, young people still did something, even though it may have been inspired by selfish motives. Yes, social media is fantastic for spreading awareness like wildfire, but what catches fire online is quick to burn out. There is so much information online that things that are actually important, such as the Kony2012 campaign (debatable…), are forgotten in a few days.
    I personally didn’t buy into the whole Kony2012 campaign. My roommate woke me up at 3am and forced me to watch the half hour video on it. The only reason I agreed is because everyone was going crazy about it on SNS and because the story sounded so crazy. However, while watching it, I lost all interest. Something about it made the whole organization seem like a whole bunch of BS to me. It was too froufrou and the way Invisible Children suggested that we fix the problem (with bracelets and posters!) was too unrealistic. My friend, on the other hand, was sold. She was so excited to buy a bracelet and couldn’t stop talking about it for the next couple of days. Yet, she never ended up buying a bracelet and when I asked her why, she said that it was because I didn’t support it so it kind of made her feel weird about the cause (ya, I’m a terrible person). Through our class discussions and your post, I have come to realize that social media campaigns aren’t necessarily useless or inane. They are just very fragile. Social media makes it very easy for people to start criticizing anything and everything, so once people see a lot of backlash for a certain cause, it is quick to lose its momentum and fall apart. I guess we’ll see if Kony2012 has some real followers tonight!

    Reply
  15. Ilana Dreiman

     /  April 20, 2012

    Joey,
    I really liked a lot of the points that you brought up in this post, especially your points about the Facebook sharing function’s huge role in the spread of KONY2012 as well as how easy SNSs make it to define ourselves as humanitarian. Like you, many of my Friends who posted about the KONY video were, I’m guessing, “trying to write themselves into being” or just going with the SNS trend of the week. I thought you made a great point when you said that we still need to check the facts despite the powerful message being sent, well-respected celebrity endorsements, etc. To me the initial popularity of the KONY movement was a perfect example of the slacktivism that we’ve been talking about so much in class. The 67 million views on Youtube are impressive. However, at this point, the sequel released on 4/5 doesn’t even have 2 million views yet. Whether this is due to the controversy that arose out of people’s fact-checking, or merely to the slacktivists’ waning ambition remains to be seen. If it is due to the slacktivist’s nature of sharing or liking a cause in order to paint themselves as a humanitarian and proceeding to forget about the cause entirely, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised. Today’s SNSs make it so easy to be a fair weather activist, and I think that this situation is a great example of that. It’s so easy to share a video or like a page on Facebook to show your support, and not do anything further. I think that tonight’s Cover The Night event through Invisible Children will be a great indicator on whether people are taking this activism to heart, using it to increase their social capital, or are merely going with the flow of the viral campaign’s impressive start.

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  16. First off – what an eloquently written post! You touched on so many pertinent points that were mentioned in class as well as the readings, and I enjoyed reading your take on Kony 2012. One of the arguments I could not agree with more was that of visibility. I had seen the Kony video being posted throughout my Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds for a few days when I finally decided to watch the thirty minutes of footage in its entirety. Personally, I didn’t end up reposting the video because reposting something of that nature that I’m no expert in is not my style. What really irritated me was that most of the people that had linked this video probably knew absolutely nothing about Invisible Children nor Joseph Kony, and were probably never going to do anything else with the cause than share the video. Sure it had gotten to me emotionally and maybe I even cried a little (or a lot, whatever). But so does The Notebook and you don’t see me reposting clips about Ryan Gosling like a psycho. The point I’m trying to make is that people want to post this video for their own good, specifically in order to present themselves as activists. The Kony 2012 video’s sheer spreadability made it easy to seem like we cared about this cause and by sharing we were making a difference. Compared to a movement like It Gets Better, the Kony 2012 campaign is so beyond the audience’s grasp that our actual role gets lost along the way. While I do agree with some of the previous comments here in the sense that awareness is a crucial first step in activism, and the Kony video especially, I do believe it is a prime example of slacktivism. If the end goal were just awareness, like that of IGB, then the video would have served its purpose. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Looking back, I’m positive that hundreds of users in my networks posted the video about Kony. Yet, given that today was (is?) supposed to be Cover the Night I have heard virtually nothing of it on my social networks. Clearly no one bothered to invest the time in the cause beyond its first video and those who did will probably never see Joseph Kony’s downfall firsthand. Never did “taking action” require so little action at all.

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  1. Response 4 Prompt « Culture and Social Media Technologies

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