I had been thinking a little bit about charity and activism in relation to social media, specifically, if it actually does anything more than feed a persons philanthropic sense of themselves.
I read this article which speaks about a new advertising campaign brought out by Crisis Relief Singapore with the slogan, “Liking isn’t helping”. It speaks to a generation of people (my generation) who commonly ‘like’ or ‘share’ a charity page on Facebook, Twitter, or any social media platform, with the intention of… Well, I’m not actually sure what their intention is, or what they hope to achieve by the click of a mouse.
We’ve all seen the ones. It might be a photograph of a horribly malnourished African child, wide-eyed with flies dancing on his lips, he is probably staring directly into the camera with a scabby hand outstretched. And below the photo will inevitably be the caption, “Like = Save, Ignore = Die”.
As the article says, it reminds us of the quasi-charity campaign by Invisible Children who started the KONY2012 movement, promoting the philosophy that by sharing a video through social media, you are building awareness that will affect social change. Leaving aside some of the criticisms of Invisible Children as a charity organisation, the idea may still be have legs, or at least still legitimately begs the question; can social media actually change anything in the ‘real’ world?
In the wake of the Boston Bombings it was seen clearly what can happen when social media flexes it’s muscles and takes matters usually left up to trained professionals into it’s own hands. Reddit users began to do a little bit of investigative detective work for themselves, spreading a wave of misinformation that was picked up by legitimate news sources and published by them as fact. Several people were wrongly accused as being responsible for the bombings after Reddit users began collecting photographs from the event posted on social media in an attempt to discover the perpetrators of the attacks.
So social media can obviously have a significant impact on more than just the virtual sphere. But that doesn’t quite answer the question, as the example of the Boston Bombings was quite reactionary, emotionally fueled and unorganised in it’s response.
So perhaps we need to rephrase the question slightly: is social media able to affect social change in an organised and controlled way, as was suggested by KONY2012 and feminists groups on Tumblr? Or are they just people with a little bit too much spare time on their hands and are looking for a way promote a minority group to reestablish their own altruism?