Don’t mistake Facebook for action

By Michael Rothberg

Every now and then, someone posts a link on Facebook to a charity or cause like stopping genocide in a foreign country or shutting down puppy mills. Usually, the links are asking for money or just “raising awareness.” However, no matter how noble the cause, there is something unsettling about seeing these posts on Facebook.

Granted, it can be useful to promote a charity with a social networking website, but if people think that simply posting on behalf of these causes will singlehandedly solve a problem, they are kidding themselves.

While a viral post can garner thousands, if not millions, of “likes” or “shares” for a specific cause, if no substantial action is taken, nothing is accomplished in the end. This passive form of activism is an exercise in futility.

Earlier this year, a campaign to “Stop Kony” went viral on Facebook after the release of a short film made by the no-governmental organization Invisible Children Inc. The video, which was viewed by 90 million people on YouTube, was an exposé on Joseph Kony, the Ugandan leader of the Lord’s Resistant Army.

The leaders of the movement claimed that by drawing widespread “awareness,” Kony would somehow be brought to justice. The logo for the movement was a poster, which looked vaguely like Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign poster designed by Shephard Fairey. It depicted Kony juxtaposed with Adolf Hitler and Osama Bin Laden with the simple tagline: “The Worst.”

This inflammatory message spread like wildfire, receiving over 800,000 likes on Facebook. Liking Kony 2012 on Facebook became a trendy thing to do.

Despite all of this “awareness,” nothing was really done. The movement fizzled out of the limelight and became somewhat of a national laughingstock after Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell was arrested for a public nude escapade.

In no way do I doubt that bringing Kony to justice is a worthy cause, as he is guilty of many unspeakable, violent crimes. However, the Kony 2012 movement took the wrong approach to solving the problem. They just told people about the problem and expected others to deal with it.

If people really want to make a difference, they need to leave their computer monitors.

In 1960, four students from an all-black college in Greensboro, N.C. acted against segregation by sitting in at a segregated lunch counter.

These protestors took direct action on the issue rather than just proclaiming a strong stance on it. They sparked many other “sit-ins” across the country and played a major role in the success of the Civil Rights movement.

Websites like Facebook are helpful when it comes to communication. They can connect people from all around the world. They can be useful for gathering support. They can spread new ideas and maybe even work as a makeshift public opinion poll. Facebook is not activism. Action is activism.