Monday, August 18, 2014

Vice On Slacktivism

Vice has a pretty good article ("Dumping A Bucket of Ice On Your Head Does Not Make You A Philanthropist"). It's framed by the Ice Bucket Challenge videos that have been circulating, and traces several similar pieces of hashtag activism that went viral, including the one I still think best showcases how ill-informed most of these "activists" are, KONY 2012:
The point of the film was to “Stop Kony.” Nobody knew exactly what that vague directive meant, so instead of actually doing anything, people bought “action kits” that cost $30 and came with Kony 2012 posters and bracelets. The revenue from these kits was well into the millions, but Invisible Children never disclosed where that money went. The Lord’s Resistance Army still exists today, despite concerted efforts from the African Union to hunt them down; Joseph Kony is still at large. The efforts to capture him were, by the way, underway long before Kony 2012 was made. The film didn’t stop Kony, but it definitely did make him famous.
The Vice article points out some things that were wrong with the Kony 2012 campaign, including the fact that Kony had already been pushed out of Uganda. For some reason, though, they leave out some of the juiciest parts of the story. While they mention the question of where the "action kit" money went, they don't mention that there were questions about their financials even before that, and that even according to their own financial statements at the time, a lot of the money raised by Invisible Children went to salaries (they paid themselves $80K each), travel, and film-making expenses, mainly for the three people at the head of the group. A cynic might almost think Invisible Children was a Kickstarter for three aspiring filmmakers disguised as a charity. Vice also doesn't mention the creepy "White Man's Burden" vibe of some of their statements, or the fact that they advocate military intervention, which would involve supporting an equally nasty Ugandan government. But most importantly, at least from a perspective of sheer shaedenfreude, Vice totally leaves out the fact that Jason Russell, self-appointed savior of the Ugandan people (whether they wanted it or not), went on a naked masturbation spree a few months later. It even got a South Park (video below). After going through several other episodes of internet concern that inevitable faded away among cute cat pictures, Vice returns to the Ice Bucket Challenge with a pretty good summary of the problem with this kind of "activism":
So here we are, back at ever-contagious Ice Bucket Challenge. The videos mimic the format of neknominations (those awful dare-you-to-chug-a-beer videos) but claims that they're for a cause. Except that cause is only loosely related, if at all. Most of the videos don’t even mention ALS, let alone do anything to support ALS research. Take Martha Stewart’s video, which described the Ice Bucket Challenge as a “viral internet sensation that calls for a person to dump a bucket of icy water on his/her head, then extend the challenge to someone else.” That is, in effect, what this has become: an opportunity to show off your bikini body while doing something hilarious. Wait, what’s ALS? In case you didn’t take the time to Google ALS while you were waiting for all that ice to freeze, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a neurodegenerative disease that affects motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord. Over time, these neurons degenerate and die, which severely limits muscle movement. Because there is no cure for ALS, this eventually leads to full muscle paralysis, respiratory failure, and death. Only about 20 percent of people with ALS survive five years or more. If you want to make some fraction of a difference, consider donating to the ALS Association or volunteering your time with an ALS organization. And I mean, you can dump a bucket of ice water on your head if you really want—but don’t try to tell me that you’re doing it for charity.
And for those of you who want to claim that you're "raising awareness," I'd like to point out that the only time that awareness is useful is when it's something we're not already aware of. We've all known about Lou Gehrig's disease for about as long as we've known about Lou Gehrig, and unless we know someone who's got it, most of us know just as much about the disease as we know about Lou himself. And even if we'd never heard of ALS, merely being aware of it doesn't do dick about it unless we do something about it--donating to the ALS Association, for instance. And saying "I'm going to dump water on myself instead of donating" is almost an insult, especially when you're trying to pretend that by not donating you're going to somehow convince a bunch internet friends to donate a substantial chunk of cash($100) just because your randomly tagged them on Facebook--especially when they can get out of it by dumping water on themselves. Ultimately, the fact that there's a lot of Ice Bucket Challenge videos just proves that there are a lot of people who don't want to donate to ALS, especially when not donating and making a video gives them the chance to show just how concerned they are about whatever it was their video was going to solve. This video does exactly as much to help end ALS:
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