In this fast-paced and interconnected world of ours, news travels fast. Very fast. With constant flurries of tweets, status updates, and uploads, a simple message can go viral, reaching millions of people. We should be proud of this new system of ours, which not only acts as a safeguard to our natural rights as global citizens, but also keeps us informed of the vast ocean of global events. Nevertheless, even with all this information at our fingertips, we still suffer from selective ignorance.
Take the events in Nigeria, for example: almost 300 teenage girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram, a gang of armed Jihadists, on the night of April 14, 2014. It was not until May 3 and 4 that the entire world joined in on the hunt for the terrorist group. This collective effort was not initiated by some collective global crusade backed by a flurry of tweets and status updates. It was initiated by good ol’ non-violent protests. The Internet merely helped the news spread.
I’ll say this: if it were not for the Internet, Kony 2012, Arab Spring, and Kim Kardashian would never have gained the traction necessary to grow into multinational phenomena, but even with random celebrities hopping onto the bandwagon and holding up signs saying “bring our girls back” or “Down with Kony,” what have we accomplished as of yet? Kony is still hiding in some hole in some part of Africa, because we still can’t find him despite it being two years since the release of the infamous video; the Arab Spring fizzed out into either failed attempts at democracy or civil war; and Kim Kardashian—well, she is ironically one of the few still standing.
The problem with the Internet and its speed is not that it brings these terrible issues to light, it’s the fact that it brings them to light and quickly smothers them. Because of the Internet, fifteen minutes of fame becomes five minutes (except for Kim Kardashian: her fifteen minutes turned into seven years and counting), and people are no longer invested in the conflict at hand. People can simply upload a picture of themselves with a hashtag and call it a day. Hands clean, end of problem, when’s dinner? During the late ’60s and early ’70s, Vietnam War protests were infinitely more vivid and powerful. Protests haunted television screens and forced people to sit down and think. When we see P. Diddy in his new sunglasses with a sign that says “#bringourgirlsback,” or the thousand and one “#freePalestine” tweets, sure we think for a minute, but what do we do? Do we email our local congressmen to do something? Do we go around the street to organize support?
At the end of the day, the very fact that we’re doing something, anything, is to be commended. This new method of spreading the news is truly beautiful, and for many, an integral step towards justice (whether or not they get it is another matter). Take for example the Travyon Martin case and the Occupy Wall Street movement. Politics aside, both situations involved groups of people who used the Internet to promote their ideas of justice, and both would have been severely hampered in their search for justice if it were not for the Internet. But the lack of true power that people have-—and their short attention spans—is frustrating. We do something for a little while, get bored with it when we realize nothing is happening, and then we go back whatever it was we were doing before. Not every conflict or situation can be as politically charged as the Travyon Martin case, and it is sad that not every conflict or situation gets the level of attention that it deserves. Take the conflicts in South Sudan, Darfur, Mexico, Iraq or even the recent butchering of 43 teenage boys by Boko Haram. Where is their movement, or even their hashtag?
We never did find most of the kidnapped girls, and sadly, I doubt we ever will. Those girls will live torturous lives under oppression, and there won’t be any more “#freeourgirls” hashtags, because, you know, that was “so six months ago.”
Rush Limbaugh recently said, “The sad thing here is that the low-information crowd that’s puddling around out there on Twitter is gonna think we’re actually doing something about it.” For once in my life (and probably the only time) I can say that I agree with Mr. Limbaugh. In our pith, we stop feeling emotionally attached to the issue at hand, leaving us liable to get that quick feeling of self-gratification and call it a day. Nothing represents this “slacktivism” trend better than the current Ice Bucket “Challenge,” which I will study in more depth in next week’s issue.
Many would say that the strengths of Twitter-based movements far outweigh the cons, and I wholeheartedly agree. It is great that people are learning about these issues, it is great that people are doing “something” about them, be it as simple as pushing a button. But we ought not think, not for a moment, that pushing a button is enough.