Remember "KONY 2012"? If you are struggling to recall, it was a 30-minute-long video posted on YouTube by the Invisible Children foundation, an organization based on defeating the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a revolutionary group based in Uganda, and the capture of their leader, Joseph Kony.
The foundation had been around for years, but with little recognition. Days after the video was posted, it had racked up millions of views and was now at the forefront of a global agenda.
After the news cycle moved on, so did we. Suddenly, everyone was protesting to increase the minimum wage, and it was trending globally on Twitter. A few years later, women everywhere were taking buses, trains and flights to Washington, D.C., to let their voices be heard during the #MeToo movement, when many sexual allegations towards women were brought to light.
We went back to Washington, D.C. to demand more regulated gun control after the deadly Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School shooting that killed many young students and teachers. We protested for climate change and equality and most recently, we fought for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Sit back and think about the influx of social movements we have had within the past 10 years. Sit back and think about the social movements from the century before this. The Civil Rights Movement took years of planning and secrecy to begin to put its mission into action. The suffrage movement was decades-long before any progress was seen. So what do we have that they do not? Twitter.
We live in a world where we look to Twitter to find information instead of news publications. In the age of the global village, where many countries still censor their newspapers and broadcast television, oftentimes, it is more reliable to look to Facebook for things that we do not see on television.
As a result, things happen faster than they used to. We can receive footage from minutes ago of protests in Iran, or a revolution in Egypt, and we can feel outrage at footage that would typically be censored. And, with social media platforms, it is a lot easier to send a tweet to your representative than a letter.
We can create monumental movements overnight. But, does that take something away from the process of it all? Do things get lost as the news tries relentlessly to focus on one movement after another? I do not know.
One of the most popular apps in the world is TikTok, a video platform with a length of 15 to 60 seconds for the posted content. Phones have been proven to shorten our attention spans. We now have the instant gratification of any knowledge we want to know and any information we wish to seek. Due to this, certain aspects of creating change have been lost along the way.
There is no longer a Martin Luther King Jr. or a Susan B. Anthony at the forefront of these movements — there is no leader to look to and no guidance of long-term effects after the initial attention begins to recede. We do not have enough time to plan movements, now they just happen all at once. Something unjust goes viral and the world jumps into action. And it is a really beautiful thing, but it also means there is usually no plan of action.
Society cares a lot, all at once, and then they move on to the next big thing and so much of what is worked for is left behind. I am not saying the internet is not a beautiful aide when it comes to changing policies, demanding justice and holding people accountable, but it cannot be the sole thing to be relied on.
Holding an internet protest paves the way for performative activism. It inspired people to show support for whatever is trending by posting a tweet or updating their Facebook status, but then, it also gave them a false sense of accomplishment. It sometimes makes them think that they did their part, they showed their support and their work is done.
This is not to say that we have not moved mountains in recent years. Many laws and policies have been changed due to recent social movements. But, if there is more done on the ground, the impact could be even larger. A few decades ago you did not have the ability to show your support online and then move on.
If you really cared about an issue, you were volunteering, protesting, on the ground. There was no other option. That is clearly never going to be the case again. But, with the more knowledge we have about what makes the most of an impact, the more our voices will be heard — not just on Twitter.
Laura Esposito is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and political science. Her column, "Unapologetically," runs on alternate Tuesdays.
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