Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Revolution Won't Be Televised: But Could it Be 'Liked' and 'Shared'?

By Shingi Mavima 

What a year it has been for the internet activist- and it’s only March! Hard as it may to be to realize it in the present but the Kony2012 movement has changed the face of on-line social activism for the long haul.
It did not only bring attention to a pertinent issue; it created reactions from several governments, moved the African Union into action, began an earnest discussion on ‘slacktivism’, created an entire industry for the scrutiny of non-profit organizations, and eventually drove the founder of "Invisible Children" crazy.

Before the world had caught its breath and figured how it would actually stop Kony, the internet blew up again: this time with the tragic story of Florida teen Trayvon Martin’s shooting death at the hands of 28-year old community watch captain, George Zimmerman. Laced with implications of unnecessary force and racism, the case has resonated with the internet generation and spurred multitudes to (albeit loosely defined) action through sharing of articles, posting hooded pictures of themselves as a sign of solidarity, or organizing and attending protest rallies.

For all its utility, the movement has also been riddled with gaffes including; Geraldo Rivera’s ludicrous hoodie comment, Spike Lee posting Zimmerman's (wrong) address on Twitter, the apparent use of outdated pictures as part of the media narrative, the subsequent use of wrong pictures in an attempt to expose the media narrative and the list goes on.

Therein lies the danger and skepticism surrounding modern activism: where does it start/stop, and how is it now defined? 

Before we can answer that, it is important to outline the key criticisms arising from the advent of such online movements: the promotion of slacktivism for self gratification (comfort zone ‘activism’), the propagation of misleading information, and the window for the unscrupulous opportunist to capitalize from.

Now, opportunists have always been there, make no mistake of it. Several individuals and organizations have exploited the suffering of others for their own benefit. Thus, while the internet may give the corrupt a larger platform to take advantage of, it (more importantly) brings their misdoings to light in a way that it didn’t before.  It is also important that the public separate, as much as possible, the personal being of the advocate from the cause. In the end, Martin Luther King Jr and his peers will always have the legacy of the civil rights movement and what it means to the US, regardless of what shortcomings they might have had as people. That filmmaker Jason Russell was arrested for public indecency soon after the ‘Kony 2012’ went viral does not take away from the plight of the communities expressed in his video (some valid points of criticism have been raised about the movement, but that should not be on the list.)

               If only saints were given the license to do good, who would be left standing?

 The same can be said for misleading information; while faulty and outdated facts still do the rounds, the internet has allowed for an instant fact check. For example, no sooner had I seen the picture (on the left) claiming that the media had intentionally been using an old photo of Trayvon to garner sympathy, I was almost instantly presented with yet another (right) citing that the ‘recent’ picture of Trayvon that had been unearthed was not even of him.


the doctrine or practice of vigorous action or involvement asa means of achieving political 

or other goals, sometimes bydemonstrations, protests, etc..." Dictionary.Com

Finally, comfort zone activism/slacktivism. Injustices (for the most part) are committed away from the internet, and justice shall have to be found away from it as well. Memes, 29 minute videos, ‘liked’ statuses, and hooded pictures will not, in themselves, bring justice to Trayvon’s community or lead Kony to surrender himself. 

What the internet does, however, is provide a universal meeting point to share information and organize. The Arab Spring stands out as a modern day spectacle of international revolution with the help of social media networks. In the aftermath of the ‘Kony2012’ movement, the previously dormant African Union has been moved to deploy 5000 troops for the purposes of catching the infamous warlord. This was not the reaction the video was pushing for- it is an even better alternative to having Western forces working with outdated information to descend upon central Africa. Nevertheless, credit is due to the movement for raising an issue, thus allowing the powers that be to act in a way deemed fitting.

 In Trayvon’s case, personal hooded pictures might be argued to be a gesture that does little to further the cause of justice. History, however, is full of gestures that have shaken the world (both positively and otherwise): whether it is Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s clenched–fist salute at the 1968 Olympics or Hitler’s outstretched hand. To deride the spreading of images as ‘slacktivism’ is both unfair and dangerous.

The Truth

The internet is this generation’s frontier. Social lives, relationships, news, and advocacy are now functions of the web- and we would do well to embrace that soon. If left alone however, on-line activity will remain as comfort-zone activism (slacktivism). Hooded pictures cannot replace the informed individual and protest marches. Dissatisfied tweets are not to be confused for the masses who sacrificed so much at Tahrir square.
So let us tweet. ‘Like’ and ‘share’. Post pictures read and opine. Let us, nevertheless remember the undeniable certainty:

Truth, life, revolution, and justice are out there somewhere- and we will never find them sitting in front of a screen.

                                 The Revolution Will Not Be Televised- Gill Scott Herron (1970)

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