KONY 2012: I Shared It Too…

KONY 2012: I Shared It Too…

It’s been a couple weeks now since the launch of the KONY 2012 campaign. By now we should all know the story of how it went on to spread across the world and gather millions of supporters. A lot of us would also know of the criticisms that have been levied against both what the video portrays and the organization behind it.

Now, after weeks of it running its course and now that the dust has settled a bit, we’ve decided it’s an ideal time to take a look at what exactly this video could mean. Let us be clear from the outset though. We are not going to be critiquing the message of the video or the organization behind it. What we’re curious to explore is its effects and what it could mean going forward.

There’s loads of material available that goes into how the video got famous. What especially catches our attention is how influential social media was in all of this. A significant portion of our (Facebook) followers are from the Millennial Generation and are heavily involved in social media. It has become an amazing tool for connecting us not only to each other, but also to the rest of the world. Just look at some of the countries we’ve attracted fans from across on the left. This is pretty telling given that we operate solely within Trinidad. For the first time we see each other, and it has had impacts as wide and varied as from uprisings in the Middle East to the outpouring of aid and concern for earthquake-stricken Haiti … and now we have #KONY2012.

What we’ve been seeing, and what others agree, is that these hundreds of millions of people around the world are now coming forward. They’ve done the social media thing, built up their connections and networks, and are now looking for the next step. There’s been real effort geared toward “getting the virtual into the real” and “changing the world together”, but how exactly do we go about doing that? Many have criticised the campaign as far too ‘awareness’ focused and that not enough emphasis was placed on action. Daring to be controversial we’d say that awareness is exactly what was needed, and here’s why.

Hi, I’m A Slacktivist…

A term that has been gaining some popularity around recently is the word ‘slacktivist’. It is a mashup of the words slacker and activist, and it usually refers to someone who supports an issue or social cause with minimal effort, and with little practical outcome other than to make that person feel satisfied. We’d like to say that there’s a bit more to it than that.

Rise of the Slactivist

What slactivists do, especially those in social media, is facilitate the quick spreading of a message. They act as nodes in networks, through which word is spread to large numbers of people. They help build awareness quickly, but this brings us back to the question of ‘is awareness enough?’.

A Lesson From TED

A brilliant TED Talk by Chris Anderson back in July 2010 looked at the new age of sharing information. He focused on the power of web video, and it’s influence on how we now learn and innovate together on a global scale. As part of his talk, he also looked at the eco-system of sharing this information.

Chris Anderson’s Talk at TED Global 2010

What he came up with is that it’s not as simple as the creator and the consumer of content. Instead, there are also a number of people in between who help that information through. We need our commenters to really get into what is being shared, our trend-spotters to bring us bits from all corners of the web, our cheerleaders to support content and cheer it on, our skeptics and mavericks to challenge us and keep us on our toes, and our superspreaders to get the content to the widest audience possible. All these so-called ‘slacktivists’ are helping to develop and distribute content on a far wider scale than we’ve ever seen before.

But Where’s The Action?

It’s a fair question. With all these people living in ‘ideas-land’, who’s going to do the actual work on the ground? We would say that it’s the same people who would traditionally do it, and then some.

You would always have your core group of activists and doers fighting for our social causes and standing up for the little man. The only difference is that now they don’t have to do it alone. The beauty of a slacktivist is that what he/she represents is a person who is no longer inactive. It’s unreasonable to think that someone is going to be a (social) slacker on one day and then flying off to Africa to help rebuild LRA-affected zones the next. It’s a process that starts with … you guessed it … awareness!

A person must move from (social) slacker to slacktivist to full on activist. It is then the purpose of the various groups and organisations to see that these people keep on moving along the spectrum by engaging with them and providing real, actionable opportunities to get involved.

Just looking at the KONY 2012 campaign, by far the vast majority of the millions who shared the video will not do much more than that. But what has come from their sharing?

  • First and most obvious is the fact that people are now talking about the countries affected by the LRA and what the situation is. Awareness is at an all-time high, and this means significantly more brains collaborating and looking at any problems there may be to find solutions. Going with the criticisms, even if it’s found that there is no problem in Uganda right now, at least a large portion of people would know this and would already be looking at the area to see where help could be rendered. Loads of discussion and debate has been going on around the topic, and a lot of it was sparked by the video.
  • Second, and maybe more important is the fact that thousands of people actually came forward and offered their help. Through sharing by the passive millions, these active thousands were found. Would they have all been made aware if someone from their networks hadn’t brought it to their attention?

And Why Are We Trinis Jumping At This When We’re Not Even Concerned With Our Own?

It’s true that a large number of the shares would just be plain old bandwagonning. A number of people would go with the crowd and share freely without even understanding what it is they’re sharing; this was a one-off thing for them. But even on this point we’re still optimistic. In our news and in our media, we’re bombarded with negative news everyday. Could it hurt that much to have people connected with something they perceive as positive, if just for a while?

If the influence of global action could be spread to those people who would not normally even be bothered with local issues, maybe some positive can come from it. By association alone, maybe some people would be made aware of something closer to home that they could help out with. It’s agreed that a large part of the success of that campaign was its emotional appeal, but that emotional appeal was not specifically toward a place called Uganda and a boy named Jacob there. It’s an appeal to help our fellow man when that man can’t help himself, and we here feel that this appeal is transferable and infectious.

At the end of the day, social media can then be looked at as a numbers game. The more people you can make aware of something, the more likely you will find that person who really wants to help and bring them forward. The other side to this too is, the more people that are made aware the more people you can move along the spectrum. If more charities are able to take some of the social media lessons from this campaign and use it to help spread word of their own action, we definitely all stand to gain.


Easter eggs:

  • Clicking the slacktivist pic takes you to an infographic on the topic
  • Clicking the pic under TED takes you to the exact point in the talk where he talks about it