The hive mind of the Internet, when tactfully influenced, is a domineering force no one wants to oppose.
KONY 2012, the latest concerto of social-media-based activism, has been a particularly complex movement. Amid the sea of supporters it has spawned, critics have stood up to pan Invisible Children’s strategy and its inadequate fiscal transparency. Ultimately, whether you’re compelled to criticize or donate is entirely up to your own judgment. But regardless of where your sentiments fall, it’s clear that social media can be as potent for spreading opinions as for spreading information.
How to change America’s perceptions in 30 days or less
When news broke in October 2011 about Obama’s decision to send troops into Africa to aid in taking down Joseph Kony, the general public’s consensus was not of support, but rather criticism. While the Iraq war was winding down, citizens expressed their confusion and feared that Obama was looking to fight a new war. Critics feared America might neglect its own battles against poverty, employment and education. Incensed citizens questioned the president’s priorities.
Fast forward five months. An admittedly well-executed film has changed the course of the public’s sentiment in a matter of days. All it has taken was a digestible, albeit simplistic, message, followed by a call to action. Images of embrace and tear-jerking orchestral music only bolstered the emotional pull. But the clincher here is that as users of social media, the sum of the aforementioned parts in KONY 2012 compelled us to jump on the proverbial bandwagon absent the knowledge of the broader picture.
Invisible Children has been well aware of the potential for a viral campaign and to that degree, the non-profit must be credited in their diligence. A Reddit moderator of /r/worldnews revealed that approximately 300 submissions of the video from various “spam” accounts had submitted the KONY 2012 video as far back as one month before the film went viral.
Informing and opining
Social media today revolves around the notion that users will be inclined to read, listen and watch what their peers are reading, listening and watching. So it should come as no surprise that many social media users also weigh in on issues the same way as their peers. As one Redditor’ put it: “I’m sitting on the fence still, I need this to get to the front page so I can come back tomorrow and find out which of you are right, according to the reddit masses.”
I was one of the first thousand viewers of the video after its aggressive push on Reddit. But while I didn’t publish the video onto Facebook or Twitter, surely enough, it was recommended by a friend who suggested I check it out.
The weight of social media can be felt in all corners of the Web. Google, for example, has enacted dramatic updates to its search engine to reflect our friends’ Web proclivities. Facebook’s Open Graph feeds us results entirely based on news, music and videos friends are sharing.
We’re living in a peculiar age where we ignore or feign naiveté to avoid the reality that social media is like a prolonged game of telephone. We’re so inundated with information from differing sources that our opinions become highly contingent on what our friends or influencers say.
Others will jockey to proclaim their “authority,” whether sharing valid or unsubstantiated news. Only weeks ago, another “death rumor” spread like wildfire. An inaccurate interpretation of a post on Weibo spread within the network to suggest that Kim Jong-Un had been assassinated. Inevitably the infectious news then spread onto Twitter. News outlets rushed to be among the first to break the story, while other outlets remained cautious and checked their sources.
Essentially, we’re living in what Gabriel Weinberg, founder of DuckDuckGo, calls a “filter bubble.” While many contemporary Internet debates rage around personal privacy, we should also stop to think about who and how often we allow a peer or influencer to factor into our decision-making process.