Savvy social justice digital campaigns: Are they ruining activism?

As most of you know, social media marketing is what I do for a living. A lot of you also really aren’t sure what the hell that really means outside of Tweeting and posting on Facebook, and that’s okay. (It gives me more power when people don’t get what I do… just so long as I can prove the ROI).

Ever since I wrote my thesis in undergrad about social media and its impacts on political involvement, I’ve been fascinated with how social media can be used to achieve different goals.

Here are two campaigns that have really caught my attention (and yours too I’m willing to bet):

Kony

I saw the phrase “Make Kony Famous” all over my Facebook feed yesterday and there was a link to a video that people were urging their followers/friends to watch. Out of curiosity, I checked it out this morning.

Now I don’t usually watch videos that are more than 5 minutes long, but this video, which was produced by Invisible Children, is a beautiful piece of work. Say what you want about the content itself (as I know a lot of folks are questioning the validity behind this whole thing) you cannot help but get wrapped up in the cause and be inspired by the mobilization of so many people.

This video has only been posted for three days and it already has nearly 50 million views. And with awareness being one of the main goals of this campaign, I’d say it was a grand freaking slam.

Miss Representation

This is a film that was produced to “break the cycle” of oppression of women, specifically in the media.

While I unfortunately have not seen the full length feature yet, the trailer leads me to believe that it’s a really compelling piece of work.

Beyond the film, Missrepresentation.org did a #notbuyingit campaign that challenged the rampant sexism in Super Bowl advertising (uh hello, Go Daddy) that was totally blowing up my feed.

I thought it was an incredibly smart campaign. When a company sees thousands of tweets about their advertising, and ultimately their product, with the hashtag #notbuyingit attached, it is pretty difficult to ignore.

My question to you is: What difference is this all making?

While these campaigns are incredibly savvy and went viral, what exactly are they accomplishing?

I’d be curious to see how many people actually did one of the three action items at the end of the Kony video. In a Pinterest style world, it seems like people are going to be passionate about this until it drops below the fold on their Facebook Timeline.

It appears that these social media campaigns are leading to a newly coined term called slacktivism, which according to our friends at Urban Dictionary can be defined as:

The act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem.

When “taking action” means simply digitally signing a change.org petition, how are we going to get people to take offline action?

I’m proud to say that when there is something going on that I don’t agree with, I don’t hesitate to call my legislator’s offices, write letters, and attend (or sometimes help facilitate) rallies. But when people can’t even bother to call their own parents when they could just text or e-mail them, what does that mean for activism?

So, what do you think? Is social media hurting or helping activism? And hell, what does activism even mean anymore in today’s digital society?

2 comments

  1. the ONLY thing powerful about the Kony video is that it shows how ridiculously stupid people are for completely believing it and supporting it. additionally, just because it has 50 million views doesnt mean that anything is actually getting done- how many of the 50 million have donated?

  2. My favorite thing to do with this, is when someone comes at me with all of this KONY hype, just ask them to point out Uganda on a map. I’ve done it three times and nobody has gotten it right. White guilt is an amazing thing. Everybody wants to give off the appearance that they give a shit, when in reality, they don’t.

    Same thing kind of happened with the “going green” initiatives that companies were hyping two years ago. A lot of organizations spent twice the budget on preaching about how “green” they were, when they could’ve invested in some more sustainable practices with that budget.

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