Every so often my aggregation of Tumblr blogs — my “dashboard” or “dash” — fills with death, thanks to a blogger who calls himself The Revolting Syrian. As I scroll through his blog, it takes everything I have not to look away. It’s filled with pictures and YouTube video thumbnails of Syrian men, women and children in varying states of distress and disfigurement. They’re the victims of what was once a revolution and is now a long, bloody civil war, fought between the government forces of Bashar al-Assad and a loosely organized group of rebels.

The first few times those images popped up I was almost sick. How could anyone not be? I saw and continue to see Syrian opposition to Assad as thoroughly legitimate and I hope his rule ends — by whatever means. However, I never expected pictures of maimed and dismembered children to show up on my dash. They seem grotesquely out of place alongside images of the Earth taken from the International Space Station, brief, hilarious exchanges of text and teasers for articles in various publications, but I feel obligated to keep following that blog. Doing so has served as a daily reminder that the peace I enjoy as a student in beautiful Ann Arbor is more precious than I’ve ever realized.

His blog has done more for me than that, though. It has helped me to realize that the only way to stop a conflict like the one in Syria — apart from one side’s surrender or annihilation — is a state’s application of geopolitical power. No amount of blogging or sharing of gruesome pictures will matter if some government or another doesn’t think ending the conflict is in the national interest. This is a departure from the ideal that generations of Americans have been taught — that each individual’s voice matters. My own generation has expressed our voices online for much of our lives and sharing the content we create or speaking out about what we find there is second nature to us. In turn, these acts seem to carry with them the expectation that someone should be paying attention to what we say — that somehow, the mere act of expression deserves attention.

It’s apparent how untrue this is in how we’ve used the Internet far more effectively for getting free music, networking and Kickstarting our favorite projects than for stopping civil wars and other conflict. The Internet and its community of users just don’t have the power to affect the outcome of the Syrian conflict. Even if we tried, there’s little chance that any petition or email sent to the White House regarding the conflict would get beyond some secretary’s inbox. They would probably give the message a cursory once-over, shoving it in the virtual trash alongside messages from 9/11 truthers and people who think they’ll be taken more seriously if their entire email is in CAPS LOCK.

Granted, the reasons for this dismissal are obvious. With its vast intelligence infrastructure, the government should be far better informed about the situation in Syria than any single person. Like all other pieces of national policy, there isn’t going to be a referendum on whether or not the U.S. should arm the rebels. And unless the conflict spills over the Syrian border into U.S.-allied Iraq, Israel or Turkey and a U.S. troop deployment becomes possible, expecting the American people to respond en masse to a distant country’s suffering is depressingly unrealistic. Who wants to think about some conflict halfway across the world when you could hop on Netflix and watch the new season of Arrested Development instead?

Trust me — Netflix will keep for a while. For now, go find The Revolting Syrian online. Remind yourself that there are important problems in the world that deserve our attention, perhaps even more so than the ones that plague this country. And if you think I’m wrong — if your faith in the power of the Internet knows no bounds — realize that there’s a whole host of problems that online interaction cannot address. It can mesh the voices of hundreds of people from dozens of countries into a virtual choir and provide free college-level courses to the masses, but for some things — like ending a civil war — the Internet is not enough.

Eric Ferguson can be reached at ericff@umich.edu.

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