Home > Global, Life, UBC > Beyond Kony – Social Media, Community, Slackivism and Tolerance

Beyond Kony – Social Media, Community, Slackivism and Tolerance

Last Wednesday, I attended a discussion organized by the UBC Community United Way Campaign about the implications of the Kony campaign. The discussion was led by Dr. Chris Erickson, Victoria Capron and AJ Koehn. I was disappointed at the low attendance (do students not care about international issues?), but it was due to the lack of advertisement and there isn’t much hype around Kony now as there was last month. Funny enough I only happened to stumble upon this event by chance when I Facebook stalked a friend who couldn’t attend. I won’t talk about Kony in particular (there’s already enough discussion going around), but focus on the bigger issues that were discussed by the panel.

The panel mentioned social media is more effective at raising international issues rather than local ones. There’s a sense of distance and anonymity when you support an international cause which makes one feel “secure”. Their reason was this: Let’s say the Kony issue actually occurred locally in Vancouver (instead of Uganda) so now the problem is “in your face”. This forces you to question the system you’re currently a part of and that’s very discomforting. Now then would you be more likely to share the KONY 2012 video? I’m not convinced by that statement because I interpret that to mean it’s easier to support irrelevant (ie not related to you) causes than to draw attention to your own problems. There are probably people who think like that, but that would be an unfair generalization to use on everyone.

A problem brought up was how to get more people involved with local issues. It wasn’t much of a discussion, but more on how to get people to volunteer given from the panelists who have been involved with the community. The most important thing is to engage with other people so prospective volunteers want to seek you out. For example, you can go around and ask what events do you want, what can we fundraise, so when the time comes you need volunteers, it’s easier to go to the same people you asked. You want them to think I did that vs I was told to do that.

One panelist argued slackivism is the new form of activism and that’s a good thing. The argument is when we share a video or attend a Facebook event, we feel compelled to learn more about it and actually show up to the event. People against slackivism (anti-slackivists) are saying it’s good to have a lot of money and power since that’s the only way to exact meaningful changes. However the same system anti-slackivists challenge is built on money and power so that’s a direct contradiction.

I didn’t really understand that argument, but tried my best to restate the panel’s position on slackivism… I still maintain my stance (slackivism sucks) and here’s my rebuttal: Yes I agree when we share a video, we want to learn more about it. However it’s wrong to say that learning about an issue will always lead to one’s involvement. I also agree that when we attend a Facebook event, we feel obligated to actually come if the invite was personal. Of the thousands (or millions?) of people attending the KONY 2012 event, what percentage of them do you think will actually show up and “cover the city” with Kony posters? My theory is these events were mass sent to everyone and you probably received the same invites from several people. This means even if you click attend, you won’t feel the need to show up since there is no single person who is going to keep track of you. However if you receive a personal invite when only ten people have been invited and you click attend, you would be expected to show up.

I’m not sure how the panel came up with the idea anti-slackivists support having money and power. Buying a Kony kit isn’t slackivism (whether or not the money is going to good use is a separate issue) since collective action is powerful for catalyzing change (why else would we live in a democracy). Furthermore having a lot of money and power is a good thing. The only problem is if you achieved that position unethically or abuse it once you got there.

Although unrelated to Kony, tolerance was discussed. For example, we have had problems with homelessness and child poverty for a long time in Vancouver, but the situation still remains the same. Does that mean we have become too accepting of the homeless community (ie homeless people are a normal part of Vancouver and we can live with that)? Has Vancouver become too tolerant then and is that a bad thing? Tyler recently brought up a good point regarding tolerance and homophobia: Many people will tell you I have nothing against gay people, they’re cool people. However how many would be comfortable identifying with the social norm? This seems to be a problem it’s cool for other people to be gay, but it would be unacceptable for me to be gay. Can you consider that situation tolerance then?

Like the Occupy movement, Kony 2012 has been very successful at raising issues for people to discuss. How much conversation is enough and when do we need to move to action? Unless something changes, Kony 2012 will have the same results as the Occupy movement. The last issue the panel left us with was is it better to oversimplify facts to gain support instead of fully educating people? One criticism of the Kony 2012 video was the oversimplification of facts. If Invisible Children had been more transparent from the beginning, they wouldn’t have had as many supporters so can one justify their actions in that regard?

Categories: Global, Life, UBC
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