Thoughts on Internet Activism

Thoughts on Internet Activism


Considering the probable fact that you reading this are a Vassar student, you have most likely seen quite a bit of this photo around the internet over the past week or so. The Human Rights Campaign posted a red-and-pink version of their equal-sign logo on their website, and asked their followers to make it their profile picture in order to show support for gay marriage as the Supreme Court deliberated on Prop 8 and DOMA last Tuesday. The image immediately went viral, being posted and shared by thousands, including celebrities.

Obviously, I understand the point of this campaign and certainly believe that it’s a fantastic way to raise awareness, show support for this issue, and reassure those in the LGBTQ community who may be struggling to see that there are plenty of people looking out for and agreeing with them. However, it got me thinking about the general principle of using social media as a form of protest.

Although I fully realize that it’s an entirely different scenario, I can’t help but be reminded of the whole KONY 2012 ordeal. In case you needed any reminder, it was another campaign with good intentions that rapidly exploded across the internet to be posted about by thousands upon thousands of individuals. Profile pictures were changed, links were retweeted, the video was shared countless times, and yet…Despite all the hype and hubbub, not only online but also once it bled into mainstream media, how long did the KONY efforts really last? How many of those people truly cared about the cause and did something about it besides just clicking a few things because they wanted to jump on the bandwagon and be a part of this movement? Not to say that those people did not have good intentions, because I’m sure that they did. Yes, the KONY movement served to raise awareness about an issue and encouraged youth to use the power of the internet to do their small part in trying to change the world, but the motivation that stemmed from it was halfhearted, quickly died out, and did not effectively create action. Watching a thirty-minute video and then sharing it on Facebook does not make you a a social activist.

Despite that little rant, I want to reaffirm that I certainly do not think that showing support with the HRC logo is the same thing as participaing in the online KONY 2012 debacle by any means. I know that those who did participate certainly do truly believe in this cause and want to make an individual effort in any small way that they can, even if they know that their profile picture choices are not going to effect the Supreme Court decision. Not to be cynical, but I’m just a little skeptical about how social activism seems to be becoming more and more about being part of a trend. I’m not even going to start to get into the issues surrounding the HRC that are being raised, because I still believe that the message was a well-intentioned one. Even so, it is important that one understands what he or she is specifically supporting through the HRC logo and does not just blindly repost it because they see that three of their friends have.

I guess what it comes down to is that I don’t think that we should stop doing our small parts in supporting things we believe in. The sharing and reblogging and retweeting to your heart’s content is all coming from a good place; just make sure that you know what you’re talking about. At the same time, though, you can fully support a cause without plastering it all over every aspect of social media. And that doesn’t mean that you feel any less strongly about the cause. But that’s just my two cents.

One thought on “Thoughts on Internet Activism

  1. Online awareness can be effective and in most cases is essentially a virtual petition, especially if directed towards the appropriate audience. For example, Invisible Children – the organization behind KONY 2012, recently asked its supporters to tweet at Secretary of State John Kerry and urge him and the State Department to remain committed to apprehending Joseph Kony after extenuating circumstance in the Central African Republic forced the U.S. to pause the mission. Several thousand people tweeted at Kerry and the State Department (he received a tweet every 19 seconds at the campaign’s peak.) The State Department responded and reaffirmed their commitment. This is just one of many examples of online activism. Check out this blog for more insight on this type of activism:

    You also mentioned that KONY 2012 “did not effectively create action”. In fact more action was taken internationally to bring an end to the LRA in 2012 than in the previous 25 years combined. Two of the top five commanders in the LRA have been taken off the battlefield, LRA killings have dropped 67%, and the Invisible Children youth rehabilitation center opened at full capacity. This short video explains more about the accomplishments made by this campaign:

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