What does it take to become well-known? 200 years ago, if you weren’t a king, president, composer or notorious outlaw, you were likely nobody to the world. In the 20th century, celebrity status experienced a shift. Singers, bands, actors, writers, athletes and other artists and entertainers began to gain global recognition. Today, ten tweets is the difference between anonymity and stardom. That’s obviously an exaggeration, but the propagation of social technology and media has undeniably altered the landscape of fame forever. Making a YouTube video, posting a Facebook status or Tweeting something could literally make someone famous. This poses a serious problem. People’s political and social priorities are determined by sites that also feature memes and pictures of cats, not by the latest congressional meeting on Capitol Hill. And in a country that supposedly promotes democracy, it’s ridiculous for citizens to only be informed of Facebook-worthy issues.
The latest and most salient example of this type of bandwagon activism was, at least among my Facebook friends, the Kony 2012 campaign. The movement was sparked by a 30-minute video that shows and describes LRA leader Joseph Kony’s war atrocities, featuring interviews with everyone from senators to members of Kony’s child army. This is an undoubtedly noble cause, one deserving of immediate attention and resolution. Kony — indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court — is a murderer, kidnapper and sex trafficker, among other terrible things, and he must be stopped. Normally, I could never be frustrated at an honest attempt to spread the word about an injustice like this. I was disappointed, though not at this campaign, but at the brief and abrupt exclamation of awareness. For one day, my news feed was littered with videos and statuses about Joseph Kony. The next day? “Like my status and I’ll rate you out of 10.” And here lies the problem.
Social media has unfathomable and indisputable benefits — the Arab Spring being a great example. It can usher in democracy and social progress in previously unimaginable ways. Social media reinforces the interconnectedness of the world and demands civic responsibility between nations. But its strength and influence can work against substantive progress. The stories that gain Internet traction are those that feature flashy images or particularly interesting plotlines. Yes, Kony needs to be arrested and removed from power, but I saw not one post about Iran’s nuclear weaponry program or the exponentially growing death toll in Syria. Super Tuesday didn’t have its own Facebook video. Going back several months, Georgia inmate Troy Davis became a Twitter phenomenon much like Kony 2012 did. He was on death row, though his conviction was somewhat inconclusive. Davis trended on Twitter and Facebook for the few days leading up to his death. After he was killed, there was no more mention of him. There also wasn’t any mention of the inhumanity of capital punishment or the general inefficiency and injustice of our prison system. I don’t want to take away from the Kony campaign or Davis, but there is a lot more going on in the world than just them. Brutalities and social inequalities occur continuously every single day. I’m not interested in making value judgments about the world’s most pressing issues, or whose plight deserves the most attention — each and every one needs attention from each and every person in the world every day. It’s not enough to post two statuses a year. It’s not enough to post a status every single day. People need to engage with each other and be politically active to truly bring about change.
How then, do we alter this culture of momentary awareness? The responsibility falls on individual people and on the media. Citizens must make more of an effort to stay current with the world, perhaps by reading a newspaper or watching CNN. But websites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube also need to consciously promote continual awareness. Otherwise, only select issues will receive attention, forsaking thousands of others. And it’s humanely irresponsible to promote only the movements that personally move or irk a person. Thanks to social technology, we live in a very small world, with very large problems, all of which deserve the consideration and commitment of every individual within the global community. Now Tweet that.
Sam Myers is an LSA freshman.