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Is virtual protest making us apathetic?
by Y.L. Reyes on July 27th, 2014

On any given day you receive an email, a twitter link or an invitation to a virtual event on Facebook, or any other social community. The theme of the invite can be Saving the Whales, Free Tibet or Release *insert here a political prisoner's name.* You read the reason for the event, the awesome situation happening somewhere in the world and you become outraged. "Somebody should do something about it." you think while checking your facebook at the same time; Jenny posted a funny picture! You go back to the email, click on the link and sign the petition, send the already created letter, donate a few bucks or share it with your facebook friends. A sense of satisfaction fills you up for a moment. After 30 minutes, you forget all about it and return to your daily routine. 

We've all received these requests. They are Virtual Protests. An idea conceived, among other things, to protect the participants from serious danger whilst giving them the opportunity to raise their voice to, in many times, a difficult cause[1]. This idea, in theory, sounds perfect; you will share your voice with the world while protected by the relative anonymity the Internet provides. In practice, many critics fear some aspects of the movement; and the influence the global digital divide can have on internet activism[2]. In my opinion, this method makes us lazy while feeling an underserved sense of reward and peace of mind for having done the "right thing."

What happened to the real, live action protests? The Civil Right Movement in America in the 60's; the protests of May 1968 in France or the squatter protests in Amsterdam during Queen Beatrix coronation in 1980. All these were protests were filled with real human faces and emotions. These protests reached the core of the issue at hand, worrying the leaders of the countries and catching the eye of the International Community; And although some of these protests did not see a very successful conclusion, they still changed rules and ideologies in their time. They became part of our history and still remain in the collective conscience giving us the unity so badly needed to improve our quality of life.

With Virtual Protests, however, how do we measure the results? You receive an email telling you that your virtual signature helped save a child you've never even seen, created a law that will never apply to you done in some distant country you know nothing of? How can we as humans, brothers and sisters be satisfied with a simple email? these are not real results, this is us individuals searching for a feel good moment, perhaps to stop feeling guilty for becoming an investment banker instead of the fire fighter or policeman you wanted to be as a child. The virtual protests gives you that nice selfish feeling that YOU made a change (a virtual one that is) and that you were a good humanitarian even if only for 2 minutes of your day. 

There are, of course, many supporters and many internet activist who debase my idea (and this is a good thing!) Movements like Anonymous, zeitgeist and Wikileaks were created in the internet and have been reaching millions, changing many factions of the status quo. But, there is a strong interest between these movements and the general internet activism: They mobilize. Anonymous take to the streets and show their real presence (albeit in necessary masks). They appear in public, actively protest against the system they feel is corrupt. Wikileaks will retrieve evidence of wrong doing in the world; evidence provided by real actors to create a tangible change. This is internet activism I can support because it leaves the secret walls of the web; and because it makes a corageous appearance in the real world where change can be complete. 

The fear I get from that lazy side of internet activism? The next step: Once again you receive an email, a twitter link, or an invitation to a virtual event. You read the reason for the event, except this time you can’t be bothered to care at all. You have receive this requests with the fury and the speed of spam, and by now even clicking the link is too much for you. Complete and utter apathy has settled and it will take a strong and awful situation to get you to care once again. The worse part: you won’t even notice, you will simply think, "I'm busy and the Dolphins or the occupied people of Nepal will have to make do without my signature this time... maybe tomorrow." 


You can find previous version of this article (published in October 2011) at: 

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