Today it’s very, very easy to pretend to care about something. The election, racism, pro-democracy uprisings. These causes are noble, and most of the people supporting them are lazy. Today, let’s remember what giving a shit really looks like. Hint: not your Twitter picture.
Twitter, Facebook and other means of quick chatting have proven useful, especially over the past year — it’s doubtful Egyptian revolution or Occupy Wall Street would have gained traction so quickly without them. But those using 140 characters to spread the word of an impromptu rally or secret police crackdown are in the tiniest of majorities. The rest of us are fakers — half-arsed retweet activists, who “support” Iranian dissent or “raise awareness” about homophobia with the same zeal that we click Like on a video of two cute cats playing with an alligator.
Martin Luther King Jr lead a civil rights movement comprising people who bothered to get out of their chairs. People who left their bedrooms to risk being shouted at by racists, attacked by police and assassinated by lunatics. They did so because they had to; in order to grapple with the worst parts of human society, they had to actually get out and grapple. Matters of humans dying or not dying, voting or not voting, learning or not learning, have to be resolved by more than just a listless verbal tilt of the head.
Now SOPA is not segregation, no matter how much we hate it. But with a lesser cause, we’ve shown an exponentially lesser willingness to do anything more than click buttons and change pictures. Do you want to stop internet censorship? Why don’t you try calling a legislator or organising a boycott of the bill’s supporter? Even a simple Facebook status or tweet link explaining why SOPA is bad works. Do you want to help Iranian dissidents? Open a web proxy so they can talk safely with the rest of the world.
Or don’t do anything at all. But turning your profile picture green, adding a black banner over your face or tacking your surname onto another online petition is the adult equivalent of slapping a peace sign onto your teenage backpack. Fauxtivism is worse than nothing — it trivialises the issue, mistakes gesture for action — and makes you feel good when you haven’t accomplished a thing.