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The recent blogs on this site discussed the need for individual action around climate change – amongst other thoughts.  Today I was reading the news articles and browsing Facebook and it got me thinking about how the awareness around these issues get propagated and why some causes/ideas/events seem to move much faster than others.  Yes there are numerous climate change campaigns that happen all around the world but it doesn’t seem to be leading to anything much, as the previous writers pointed out. Is this the case for other campaigns that have started? Do they also just fizzle out after a while with no real action being taken?

I think there are a lot of interesting dynamics when we look at the causes that people rally onto and how these gain momentum especially since the rise of social media.  And of course we can’t deny what a huge role the general media has – TV, radio and print media. They to some extent have always been able to either make millions of people aware of something or leave the public to ‘discover’ these things for themselves. That gives the mass media huge power – nothing new really. However, it‘s then of course interesting to know who owns these companies and what their vested interests are – that will in the end play a huge role in what is given bigger coverage. Again, nothing new.  However, the issues around climate change have been covered by mass media and therefore lots of people are aware of climate change. Maybe the way this information has been presented has largely been through a publication of scientific findings and reports and has that made the public think that this is an issue that governments and other such institutions are responsible for any action? Maybe hearing about the global consequences has led the public to not take personal responsibility? And are we late now in trying to rectifying this with new campaigns and coverage-since maybe the general public is getting saturated with the subject?

I’m going to go off topic a little here because what interests me more is not just about climate change and the general public and how they react, but also how different issues are taken up and dealt with or promoted. There’s two campaigns that I remember in the last few months that I think are interesting to look at and note.  The first one was with regards to the recent Israel-Palestinian conflict.  When the violence escalated there was a notable increase in media coverage of this and subsequently a huge mass campaign by ordinary citizens.  People everywhere it seems were aware of what was happening – with images, videos, TV coverage.  In turn individuals demanded change and an end to the violence and debates and protests were staged everywhere.  Mass media has been good at covering the situation in this case but social media had created an awareness amongst individuals that truly made this even bigger.  People on social media platforms it seems was able to rally more together- regardless of where they were – simply put, they were protesting against the killing of innocent people.  It seems easy enough to understand that individuals across the globe would want to be part of this campaign – it’s morally and ethically right to want to defend innocent people from dying.

The second campaign was very different as it was largely, if not entirely, social media driven – the ice bucket challenge.  I think prior to this particular campaign there has been numerous other ‘challenges’ on social media, but this one had a very specific cause and within days was spreading globally. Again- it illustrates individuals willing to do something for a greater cause.  The mass media in this case was not leading the story but simply following the story and reporting interesting videos that would appear online.

What gets me thinking at this point is what is relevant in these campaigns that make them go viral? Yes it is evident that social media has changed the way information can be sent globally and hence actions can be taken quickly and in mass. However, I still don’t understand why these particular topics gained momentum over others – I’m sure there were other important issues that have been less successful occurring at the same time. Why people across the globe join these ones? One might think it was because these would save innocent people in the end – but then that makes me think about what is happening in West Africa right now. There are thousands of people crying out for help from the Ebola outbreak and yet there is no campaign that I can see for them? The death toll currently surpasses that of the Israel-Palestine conflict as far as I can tell, and yet no one on social media is changing their profile pictures in support or thought.  I’m not trying to say the one is more important than the other – but the lack on any action on social media does seem to indicate that we are selective over what we support –even when the innocent are dying.  And so even though we can criticize mass media for not caring and only pushing their own interests and agenda, it would seem that we ourselves have our own agenda and this obviously dictates and drive what we support and what actions we take.

So do we take action as individuals because it fits in with our beliefs and values? Or do we take actions that are easy and ‘do-able’ – such as in the ice bucket challenge? Clearly taking action that will alter the way we live is not something people will do readily and quickly.  That is understandable as maybe the action itself requires some planning and money (e.g. putting in solar geyser).  However, why are we not protesting for action by our governments for West Africa then? That seems simple enough? Why are we not demanding that those who have the means take immediate steps to help? At what point will the need be great enough to require our individual voices or action? Or does it explicitly require more mass media coverage? Or maybe celebrities to voice their concerns?  What is the spark that is needed for action?

So after this long rant what am I trying to say – I’m not really sure, other than just to remind ourselves that we’ve presented information to the public in a certain way through the years and maybe we gave the impression that it was an issue that governments should tackle.  We all have our own agendas and we need to be aware that for some these individual changes we are suggesting are not priority and divulging the responsibility to government is the only action we’ll get. But don’t let that stop you from going and changing your social media profile pic and starting a campaign!


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3 Responses to “Let’s start a campaign….”

  1. Piotr Wolski

    from Wikipedia: Slacktivism: The word is usually considered a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it take satisfaction from the feeling they have contributed. The acts tend to require minimal personal effort from the slacktivist. The underlying assumption being promoted by the term is that these low cost efforts substitute for more substantive actions rather than supplementing them, although this assumption has not been borne out by research”.

  2. Chris Jack

    I think the answer to your question comes back to a point I made in a previous blog. People like to have a bad guy to shout at. In Gaza there was a bad guy to shout at, Israel. Same in Syria until it became a little confusing as to who the bad guy was… Same in Nigeria with kidnapping of the school girls (anyone still following that one? I saw last friday that they had apparently negotiated a release but its incredibly hard to find anything on the mass media…), there was a bad guy involved.

    But with ebola there is no “bad guy”. Its a virus. Its hard to shout at a virus. “Down with Ebola!” just seems a bit silly doesn’t it? There isn’t an obvious thing that anyone can do to magically solve the problem. The response necessarily has to be local and worked out iteratively. We can argue the nuances of that but fundamentally there isn’t a bad guy to shout about and so people are not that interested.

    Actually, its worse than that… people are interested in a very self centered way because it threatens them as they sit behind their laptop or tablets sipping their cappuccinos. So the strongest public reactions I’m seeing to ebola are things like “quarantine the whole of west africa”. Basically, lock them in and let them die but don’t let it come near me. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if some of those same people happily posted #freeourgirls tags all over the place.

    So there are some strong parallels between the ebola crisis and climate change. They are both complex and poorly understood. The correct response is a little complex as well because drastic action (quarantining west Africa) has very large negative consequences, and so authorities are tentative and conservative. Much action (screening at airports) seems largely a PR activity to let governments convince citizens they are doing something about it. But fundamentally most people aren’t that interested because there is no bad guy to shout at to make them feel like they are responsible connected citizens of the world doing their part for mankind.

    But as you’ll know, I think there is a bad guy to shout at, and he or she is staring at us in the mirror in the morning. But very few of us want to protest against ourselves or our choices now do we!

  3. peter

    Nice one, Ru.
    An interesting report regarding the ice-bucket challenge suggetsed that few people who partook, actually knew what the money raised was for and how their good intentions are often spoiled by financial self interest…
    I think that when a cause is important enough that we consider changing our behaviour or “doing something” we should be prepared to consider carefully the effectiveness of these actions and viewpoints to be sure they are really contributing towards a meaningful change. But…that shouldn’t stop us doing individual actions and mobilising mass action either….