In the past few years we have witnessed just how powerful social media has become – in more ways than just a few. From the newest fashion trends to political views, social media outlets have influenced our decisions to a point where we may not have even recognized their power . . . just that something was happening, and it felt like change.
Last year brought us the Arab Spring (or Arab Awakening, or Arab Uprising, depending on who you are talking to) that had large populations all over Middle Eastern countries rioting, protesting, demonstrating and striking in an effort to bring down their oppressive leadership. It began with a man named Mohamed Bouazizi setting himself on fire due to a corrupt government. And thanks to social media, protests were sparked almost immediately and caused a huge chain reaction that led to many changes in government.
This year's testament to the power of social media (so far, anyway) comes in the form of the Kony 2012 movement. What started as a 30 minute video raising awareness of Joseph Kony's evil deeds and calling for his capture ended up becoming a viral movement that quickly encompassed politicians, celebrities, and “regular folk” alike; including teens, adults, and even children.
So, one might raise the question: Why do we care so much about Joseph Kony when there are, quite frankly, worse problems out there?
There’s no doubt that Invisible Children, the organization who is responsible for creating the Kony 2012 video, did a great job marketing the video. Unfortunately, however, the group may have missed an opportunity to really make some changes by choosing a more relevant topic.
If you haven’t seen it, the Kony 2012 video describes (in short) the stereotypical problems we perceive Africa as having, such as the 25 years of rape, torture and murder by Kony. The problem is that this happened a quarter of a century ago, and we have not heard much about Kony until now. While it is admirable that Invisible Children chose to bring an old issue to light, it is taking the spotlight from today's problems such as famine and pestilence; and is causing the nation to focus on this 25-year-old issue instead.
More children die from diarrhea, malaria and nodding disease in Uganda on a daily basis than Kony killed each month, so why are we not passionate about that movement instead?
Perhaps part of the reason is that humans are moved to compassion, or to join a movement based on injustices that others share in as well. The feeling of “we’re in this together” is very powerful. And to be invited to join a movement, such as with the Kony video, we feel not only compelled to do so, but we suddenly feel empowered by it.
And, another part of the reason for our enamored focus on this issue could be that none of those sick Ugandan children with nodding disease have a slick, Hollywood-produced video simplifying their problem for mass consumption like Kony 2012 did. While no one is startled anymore by watching an innocent person get shot or mutilated in front of a shaky phone camera due to the perils of war, we immediately rise to the occasion after watching a beautifully-produced video that suddenly appeared on our Facebook newsfeed.
After watching the video, we learn this: innocent children are suffering and DYING, politicians are up in arms, celebrities are joining the force; and therefore, we should too. Phrases pop up all over Facebook and Twitter, such as “This man must be stopped,” and “Stop Kony!” But how many of us will really do our own fact-checking on the topic? The idea of “knowledge is power” seems to have lost some of its relevance. Now, simply being connected is perhaps the most powerful feeling in the world.
However, there’s a lack of compassion in our societies today too. We’re already so overwhelmed by the injustices of the world: cancer, disease, poverty, animal cruelty, children going to an early grave, war, and the list goes on . . . We’re so overwhelmed that it’s hard to pick a “cause,” and the result is indifference.
This lack of compassion leads to a twisted sense of empathy, where we can only express interest in things that we can "like" on Facebook, and movies like the Kony video that look shiny and smart. While one may be saddened from watching a short clip of Al Qaeda beheading a United States civilian, very little was probably done about it; and the sorrow probably escaped soon after closing out the browser. On the other hand, if there’s tragedy set to music, graphics, and a golden-haired child’s innocence captured in his questioning eyes . . . well, now that seems like something we should care about.
If agencies like Invisible Children create similar productions centered on more relevant adversity, perhaps we will be able to once again see ourselves being brought together into a collective consciousness - a place where we can really have an impact on more lives than we could possibly imagine.