A friend of mine posted a link to this petition on her Facebook the other day, along with a comment about how everyone should sign it because our signatures will totally help end slavery and violence. Almost immediately someone commented “What are they going to do? Show the petition to the slavers?” to which my friend responded that regardless of how effective the petition actually was, it was better to sign and maybe make a difference than to not help at all.
“Raising Awareness” via social networking has become fairly commonplace on the internet these days, from the petition my friend posted to sorority girls all changing their Facebook profile pics to big bold lettering that reads “STOP CHILD ABUSE” to people endlessly sharing that Invisible Children video. The general consensus seems to be that if enough people on Facebook and Twitter post about something horrible that’s happening, then said horrible thing will magically stop happening. Or something like that.
Take that petition for example. In it, the petitioners demand that Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations, somehow make the entire world work together to end gender violence and human trafficking. Now obviously I would love to see an end to those things, you probably want to see those things go away too, but the idea that signing a petition and sending it to the UN is somehow going to make a difference is completely insane. Plus the way the petition is written kind of comes off as self-righteous and arrogant. While it does mention that the United Nations has been working on solving these issues, the overall tone suggests that the people over at the UN don’t actually realize the severity of the situation. Like Ban Ki-Moon is going to see this petition in his email and be like “Holy shit! I had no idea there was so much violence against women in the world! We should totally do something about that!” Right.
The reality is that internet petitions and Facebook statuses and trending hashtags on Twitter only raise awareness in that people who normally wouldn’t know or care about an issue now know about the issue and still don’t care. Everyone in the world knows who Joseph Kony is thanks to that stupid sensationalist video, and for about a month there is was totally trendy and cool to make your Facebook status “Kony 2012″ and post all about how he needed to brought to justice and save the children and so on and so forth. You know, raising awareness.
And what did all that accomplish exactly? Well the internet succeeded in getting all riled up for a few minutes over a disgraced African warlord who hadn’t really been relevant in years, and then promptly moved on to complaining about the next big ticket social issue to make waves over social networking sites. And that right there is really about the extent of the usefulness of “raising awareness” on the internet. People “care” (and I’m using that term very loosely here) just long enough to make a status about it or sign a petition or share some stupid video and then we go back to reading about pregnant celebrities and sending each other cat videos and watching porn. And that’s the end of that. When was the last time you heard someone mention good old Kony? Probably months ago, despite the fact that he was never captured or brought to justice. Of course, he’ll likely be apprehended at some point this year thanks to the efforts of the African Union. However, the “Kony 2012″ status you made and got seventeen likes on will have had nothing to do with that though.
Not that it matters. Right now guns and gun violence and the hot thing to be raising awareness about, at least until we’re blessed with some other horrible tragedy to chatter about on Facebook. And we’ll all talk about how something totally needs to be done about that new horrible thing, and everyone will circle-jerk about making a difference and spreading that goddamned awareness even though in reality we’ll just be sitting around in our nice swivel office chairs and typing away on our Macbooks, contributing absolutely nothing of value. But hey, at least it makes you feel like you’re actually helping, right?