A great number of movements started on YouTube. The clearest example is the ‘Beliebers’ who are responsible for catapulting Justin Beiber into a world of fortune and fame (or infamy, depending on what your position is.)
Granted it’s mostly teenage girls, still, never underestimate the power of millions of teenage girls. Facebook is another platform that has fuelled a great many movements which have had both local and global impact. Let’s not forget Twitter, where ideas explode but seem to disappear as fast as they came.
All in all, there is no question that these platforms have served as outlets for new ideas and have allowed anyone to have a voice. Many people and organisations have used this as a new avenue to bring awareness to various things that they are passionate about. Some tend to be heard a lot louder than others. Not least among these is the Kony 2012 video by an organisation called Invisible Children.
The video went viral and gained millions of viewers in a matter of hours, making it the most viral video of all time. It aims to shed light on the notorious war criminal Joseph Kony who’s been a problem for the past twenty-five years in the east and central African region. And what an explosion it was! Very few things have elicited such a polarised debate.
Many people were completely behind it, but just as many people were heavily against it. The point is, everyone heard about it. Everyone suddenly had a strong opinion on the issue even if very few actually knew the history of Kony and his movement.
Supporters posted the video on their Facebook walls and urged their friends to do the same, and because of the overwhelming momentum, talk of the video spread to newspapers, online articles and CNN.
There are many more videos on YouTube about important humanitarian efforts to protect human rights by a number of organisations including UNICEF, World Food Program, Oxfam and many others. But none of them have had anywhere near the success the Kony 2012 video has. So what’s the secret?
The Kony video targets, specifically, social media. The message has three key ingredients: Kony is bad, something should be done about it, and sharing this video ensures something is done about it. These points are presented in a very simple manner, with epic music in the background, vivid images and an innocent child to clarify the ‘simplicity’ of the choice. It’s a winning formula.
However, the critics will tell you that the Kony issue is not something you can summarise in thirty minutes. This is a complex, twenty-five year long situation, sometimes with no definitive clear line between the good guys and the bad guys. Nevertheless, this video hit a nerve with people.
It stirred one of the most noble human traits- compassion. People have listened and are showing support, from global leaders in the UN, to the International Court of Justice, to Amnesty International, to the millions of individuals who have pledged their support. In an incredibly short amount of time, Kony went from being a little known war criminal to a very famous one.
So with endless images of poor starving African/Asian children, war torn countries, child soldiers, disease and disaster, in constant circulation in the media, is it possible that people have become desensitised to it? Has it become a matter of simply sharing a YouTube link to convince ourselves that we’ve done enough? Does it now take more shocking images to move us into action?
From humanitarian causes to political ones, social media has put a twist to the word ‘revolution’. You only have to look at the uprising in the Middle East to realise the real force social media can have. You could argue that these uprisings would have happened eventually, even without social media, but you cannot doubt that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube mobilised efforts at such a speed that the governments barely had time to react or intercept. Information could be sent and received by thousands in a number of seconds.
That said, not all speedy mobilisation of people leads to freedom and justice. You don’t have to look further than the London riots in 2011. Whilst many youths in the Middle East were on a mission to win freedom, their counterparts in London were looting stores and setting the city ablaze. Not a proud moment, but this event gained its momentum from social media. Some tactless youth even went as far as posting their pillage on Twitter!
Social media is a powerful tool. It is also a fast tool. So is this the new form of raising mass awareness? Definitely. But the implications of this are only beginning to emerge. Watch this space.
Written by Irene Kyomuhangi.
Photography (image 1) © Madalena aka ‘She was Anouk’ (www.flickr.com/photos/myfes)
Photography (image 2) © Dallas Backus aka ‘Jalopy Go Far’ (www.flickr.com/people/jalopygofar)
Photography (image 3) by No Borders Magazine