There’s a social media malestorm arising and Joseph Kony is at the centre of it.
A video exploded on social media networks this week. It’s a half-hour documentary sponsored by the Invisible Children organization – a group that is working to de-stabilize The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda.
Celebrities have jumped on the bandwagon – including Rihanna and Ryan Seacrest – and the campaign has raised a staggering $5 million in 48 hours.
It’s incredible, that’s for sure.
But the speed at which this is mobilizing is also somewhat alarming, largely because many of the people supporting the cause know nothing about it – aside from what is shown in the 30-minute clip.
I think it’s great that people want to embrace causes, but they should have a firm understanding of that cause first. If they don’t, they can end up doing more harm than good.
Take for example, the liberation treatment.
A “movement” exploded in 2009 in support of an experimental “liberation” treatment therapy that was developed by Italian vascular surgeon Dr. Paolo Zamboni. In layman’s terms, Zamboni theorizes that Multiple Sclerosis is caused by blocked veins near the brain and spinal cord.
His suggested treatment, which has not been clinically proven and is not generally supported by Canadian doctors due to the complications associated with it, involves “unblocking” the affected veins. It captured the public’s attention after receiving favourable media coverage by CTV, which described the treatment as a “revolutionary” therapy that “could free MS patients from a lifetime of suffering” – a PR-friendly soundbite that spread like wildfire across the Internet.
More than 500 Canadian-based Facebook groups, pages and events were created by the general public (read: not medical professionals) to promote and discuss the controversial treatment. This eventually led to a heated debate on Parliament Hill about the funding and procedures assigned to clinical trials.
I am all for the democratization of news, but calling a therapy a “miracle cure” doesn’t make it so – no matter how loud the masses yell. Only a team of medical professionals can make that call, and only after years of stringent research.
But the bandwagon activists don’t have time for research, because they’re too busy yelling.
And that’s why it solves nothing.
Bandwagon activism requires little-to-no effort and zero independent thought, both of which are needed to create long-lasting, positive change. Viral activism is, essentially, a lynch-mob mentality – despite its good intentions.
If you want to get involved in a cause, do some digging. You don’t even have to look far. Joseph Kony and the LRA’s story is nothing new; it’s been covered by major news outlets for years.
But the fact that it’s making the rounds now – because social media said so – is, to me at least, a larger commentary on society than the wars and exploitation that have been taking place, right under our noses, for centuries.
Read a newspaper. Visit a third-world country and talk to the people – I mean really talk to them – about their struggles. Learn about a society before you barge in with sympathetic eyes and a huge wad of cash.
And be prepared to do more than press the “share” button on your Facebook profile.
UPDATE: March 17, 2012: Invisible Children founder Jason Russell has been arrested for yanking it in public and vandalizing cars in a drunken spree (and part of his tirade was caught on tape). Supporters say this doesn’t hurt the cause – but I disagree. It’s hard to run a functioning charity when your leader can’t keep his sh!t together. Like I said, do your homework, people. Do your homework.