Tech Devil: Social Media vs. Social Change

We’ve all heard about this social media movement that’s going to bring down a murderous psychopath. I’m not going to get into the details of the controversy surrounding the Kony 2012 campaign, but it brings up an important issue. A Facebook and Twitter campaign for awareness of any given social movement is obviously a smart move. But, as we can see it’s not going to do much apart from spreading a message.

The revolutions that made up the Arab Spring used social media as a way to organize protests and to spread their message to people in their own country and around the world. It didn’t stop there though. They then put down their phones and actually protested and clashed in the streets with their militaries.

I love social media as much as the next always-connected Generation Y’er, but it’s only a tool and it has its limits. We still have to take action when it comes to social movements. Donations can help but that T-shirt and wristvband to make you feel like a participant probably don’t do much for the people suffering thousands of miles away.

There is a great article by Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker in which he discusses the role of social media in the Arab Spring. He says that social media had no role whatsoever because the same kinds of movements have taken place for decades without access to social media, let alone mobile devices. He’s right to an extent. Most of what happened in those protests was due to people talking to one another. But what he fails to realize is that social media was used as a way to communicate and organize people quicker than they could before.

He goes on to talk about the fact that social media didn’t do anything for the Green Revolution in Iran. He’s right. It didn’t do anything to change the political system, but it did inform millions of people around the world in an instant when it would have taken hours or even days to get it on traditional evening news. If the Green Revolution had taken place in the ‘50s or ‘60s, I would have had little to no knowledge of what was happening until the following evening at 6 p.m. Now I not only knew what was going on, but I was getting photos and video and detailed accounts that the evening news wouldn’t have given me.

Social media is still just a tool. It’s nothing more and we shouldn’t treat it as an alternative for actually taking physical action to change something in our world. It’s an incredible tool that can really help spread awareness for a social movement like the Kony 2012 campaign. But if people are so adamantly opposed to this kind of social injustice, people should read up and get their facts straight and then do something about it.

So the next time a campaign or social movement takes place and you see something pop up in your news feed, don’t just click “share” and feel like you’ve done something productive. Get outside and make things happen. This guy isn’t going to be caught just because a video’s been shared millions of times on Facebook.