internet activism

I watched that Kony 2012 video and was mildly annoyed by the guy who made it. It’s hard to be outraged by some douche in California  in comparison to the guy who has been leading bands of child warriors in Uganda for the last 20 years, which “the douche” is making me aware of for the first time.

And, as he himself doesn’t hesitate to point out, the douchey guy in California is doing something kinda interesting (cough, I mean BESIDES exposing the horrible child war lord), which is experimenting with the extent of the internet’s power to mobilize masses.

It’s not really news that even the internet has been a revolution in terms of making us more aware of what’s going on the world. And then with Egypt and stuff, people started talking about whether the internet could be a tool for helping to bring around real revolution. And then people started realizing, nah, not really: most of the people who say on the internet they care about stuff still don’t really care enough to do anything about it. And now a friend has just pointed out on facebook that we are all sharing our outrage about Trayvon Martin, but how many are actually going to reflect on what we will do about it.

But still, information and idea sharing are powerful in their own right, even if their outcomes are minute in comparison to what we hope for. But what is a minute outcome even mean, and is it significant?

Maybe this is my short-lived advertising career talking, or the fact that everyone on twitter is talking about the season premiere of Mad Men tonight, but it occurs to me that there must be something to be said for the possibility of metrics in this area. The original idea of metrics in media came through Neilsen boxes and ratings, giving advertisers an idea of who was watching what so that they could place effective ad buys, or through print circulation numbers. Since the internet metrics has become more elaborate, measuring not only what pages people visit, but how long they stay before clicking to something else, how they have landed on that page, etc. For example, if I am reading an article on the Washington Post website about a new airline route in my city, do I go to that airline’s webpage? Do I go to an airfare search engine? Do I go to an article about Angelina Jolie next? Or what if I see an ad for that new airline route– am I just as likely to go to the airline’s website? In either case, what is the likelihood that I actually purchase a plane ticket?

So it goes like that. And then you get people like Google into datamining, which I think is pretty cool personally. Really trying to paint a comprehensive picture of web users. As individuals. Based on analysis of our web behavior.

But could these analytics be applied to non-consumer behavior? I guess in a way that’s what a lot of people are afraid of. But what I want to know specifically is, how does new information change our attitudes, and how do our modified attitudes change our behavior in the future. Like, maybe in 2006 Amazon registered an order by me for the Autobiography of Malcolm X. Was there any change in my web behavior following that? Did my music downloads change?

Obviously it would be more difficult to measure what I do offline, but obviously Google is moving in that direction too. By going into anonymized monitoring of my email, photos, blogging, etc, whatever, it goes from tracking my web behavior to analyzing my own “reports” of my offline behavior.


I guess my point is, I don’t entirely agree with people like my friend who say internet activism, like the stuff the Kony guy is trying to see if he can generate, is mostly just people bitching. A lot of it is, but I think that, even for those of us who never really actually get off our asses to change things, our attitudes have still changed, and that must have some effect. And I bet at some point the internet may be able to show us what that effect actually is.

Hopefully that effect is higher awareness levels leading to smarter and more responsible personal, political and consumer decisions, but who knows.

Damn, Mikemetic’s radio show just got really housey. It’s good.


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