Graduating to the next level of Facebook activism

In the last few months, I have heard a lot of people talking about Facebook Activism - ranging from disappointment to abject rejection. Whenever a new phenomenon arises a range of opinions come up and all of them should be welcome. The same applies to Facebook activism too. I have some observations on this topic. A lot of what Online Activism (to generalize Facebook as a medium) can achieve depends on the activist and not on the medium.

The internet penetration in India is still abysmal. A fraction of this internet blessed population uses the internet for activism. At this point, let us also understand the motivation behind online activism. In developed countries, where internet is nearly omnipresent, the internet is used to reach out to public, enlist volunteers, expose ills in the society, form public opinion etc., In a country like ours, online activism may have different motivations. Many of these overlap with motivations in the developed world but majority are unique to us (or a country like ours, go figure :)).

In India, the middle class has been has been in the limelight - or line of fire, as you see it for somewhat the same reasons as online activism - tokenism. Their contribution to a cause has been said to be limited mostly to "Like"-ing of NGO and Activist organizations. This is true to a great extent but at the same time, saying just this would be presenting a one-sided picture of this phenomenon.

Post-liberalisation the number of "young-kids" (take it up to 35 years of age) with well paying jobs has increased dramatically. Following Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs", most of them have ensured the first two levels which are Physilogical () and Safety/Security () needs. To achieve the next two levels i.e. Social (Belonging) and Ego (Esteem), they need to associate with the cause of the society. Many of the youngsters are well-meaning doers - which explains rise in the number of people ready to volunteer for a non-profit. It helps them get closer to their next two needs. This is also the reason why Volunteer Management has become important. Volunteers lose interest easily (when I say this I do not generalize it for all volunteers but I do mean to include volunteerism as a whole) and it is important to ensure that we keep them engaged. Sounds very much like a corporate strategy.

At this point, let us accept that there are many online activists who use the medium for their "direct" interest - promoting their cause, earning quick brownie points among peers, creating an impression of being different etc. Since we know they have an interest, there is not much benefit by talking about them. I will talk about well-meaning volunteers and activists who really mean to do "something" but are caught between different worlds.

They get drawn to a cause because it appeals to their heart (or mind if it boils down). This stage of feeling for the cause, is a very delicate one. In a complex milieu called India, what you think to be a solution many in fact work against it. This knowledge comes from associating with a cause for a long time. Which begs another question - in this age of instant gratification, how long are these volunteers going to stick - to one cause. Coming back to the original point of good intentions, wrong information. One example that I can cite is the India Against Corruption campaign. I support the Lokpal Bill but do understand the way Lokpal Bill was presented to the middle class. The underlying point was "You are fed of corruption? Lokpal Bill will help you get rid of this cancer". The fact that it was backed by Anna Hazare made the point even more credible. However, do remember, Lokpal Bill is not the only way to remove corruption and Lokpal Bill will not remove corruption totally.

If many of us well-meaning citizens had thought one step further and seen what the bill asked for, why were the current mechanisms to tackle corruption ineffective, they would have taken a stand with more confidence and with better chances of taking the right stand. The same thing happens with almost every other issue - ranging from "What to do with stray dogs" to "Whether India should have signed the Nuclear Agreement with US".

The people who know more on these topics have the responsibility to ensure as many sides of an issue as exists are brought out in the open and made available to people who would want to know more about them.

To conclude, I would come around to the topic of this post. It certainly is time to graduate from Facebook activism. More often than not, the people and causes we discuss online, are themselves not represented online. Those of us with a real passion to do something should try to get rid of that fear of the unknown and get involved one step at a time. There is a limit to which you can talk about tribal issues if you are wary of spending time with them.

Today on my way back from home, I saw a woman lying motionless on the ground. Flies hovering all around her. Scores of people just moving around as if its a stone lying on the ground - walking around it but caring not to step on it. A family standing next to her trying hard not to notice her. I was in two minds if I should get involved (a very bad thing in itself). I crossed the women and then stopped. I inquired with the person who was looking at the woman from far. He was clueless I went right up to the woman and asked the family standing next to her. They too had no clue. I called up 108 and reported this. The person manning the center told me that someone had already reported this and an ambulance was on the way. This is what I did. More importantly this is what I did not do - I did not get down from my scooter to try and shake the woman. See if she would get up with a simple prod. I was wary. There something strange (it is called inhibition) that stopped me. I proceed on my way home. Another lost opportunity to graduate from Remote Activism - yes that is what it is. Remote activism.

1 comment:

  1. I like the point you are trying to make here, was thinking about similar stuff a few days back. An article on similar lines - http://tinyurl.com/3q2jwmm