In the midst of international uproar, we often find ourselves overwhelmed by campaigns to end social wrongdoings. From garnering support for the short-lived Kony 2012’s planned capture of Africa’s most wanted guerilla leader to Ferguson after the unarmed African-American teenager, Michael Brown, was fatally shot in August, it is easy for Americans to get caught up in social activism.
The urgency to promote tags like #Kony2012 and #BlackLivesMatter is prompted by the media. News stations and social media alike draw attention to both national and international issues, but only when Americans deem it appropriate.
For example, police brutality and the unjust militarization of child soldiers in Africa have been ongoing issues well before the media decided to shed light on it. While the two issues differ immensely, the manner in which they were reported were strikingly similar: the media controlled when, what, and how information would be dispersed. Essentially, we allow the media to tell us what to think about, and when it is appropriate.
Many of us turn to the media for succinct soundbites. The media feeds us information to purposefully get a reaction from its audience and encourage them to participate in activist movements. The hype will go viral and soon everyone is involved.
International issues like Ebola were tirelessly covered when it infiltrated the United States. Similarly, the producers of Kony 2012 essentially manipulated us into caring about the condition of African child soldiers. Many of us participated in Paint the Night to raise awareness of the campaign, however, come 2013 when Kony continued to threaten African countries, we seemed to give up.
Recently, the murders of 12 Parisian journalists for the publication, Charlie Hebdo, have gained international attention. #JeSuisCharlie floods our media, in support of the freedom of the press. However, if Americans treat this unfortunate incident like every other issue that the media has shed light on, #JeSuisCharlie may very well become a forgotten cause within a few weeks.
From spreading Ebola awareness to participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge, social media spreads movements like wildfire. It is easy to get caught up in social media activism, where we are consumed by issues for only a few weeks at a time.
After about a month, the conversation dies down and we collectively return to our oblivious, unconcerned ways. The news stations return to covering mundane, local news, and many of us let the movement fade away.
While it is unfair to discredit the activists who continue to fervently support causes they value, it is undeniable that the masses generally lose interest quickly. For example, the African-American community as well as other groups against police brutality are still actively fighting for reform in the country’s law enforcement system, well after Michael Brown’s death. Additionally, the ALS Association continues to conduct research for a cure for Lou Gehrig’s disease, even after the Ice Bucket Challenge is no longer trending on our timelines.
No one gets a cookie for talking about current events, but it is still important to keep the conversation going. Do we stop caring about issues we once found urgent? Do we find new issues to invest our time in? Why aren’t we still talking about many of the problems that once flooded our timelines and everyday conversation?
As teenagers, it may seem like there are few things we can do from our comfortable, suburban lives. Keeping the conversation alive is one of the most powerful and effective contributions we can make.
Social activism should not come in waves and we cannot allow ourselves to pretend to care about various issues, simply because the media wants it to go viral. Social problems should not be trends, rather long lasting commitments to affecting social change.
Ultimately, it is our social responsibility to keep the conversation going. Correcting social wrongs through movements promoted by the social media should not be a month long commitment. We have access to a plethora of resources at our fingertips; the least we can do is genuinely commit and show support for movements we are invested in.