Around a year ago, the Freedom of Information Bill wasn’t passed in Congress, hashtagged with #FOI. People were outraged by Congress not passing an essential bill. Now, the hashtag of the season is #reefwatchPH or #savePHseas, where people are outraged by the “rape of the oceans.” In the span of a year, many issues have been hashtagged, advocated over Twitter, and became the advocacy of the “Philippine blogosphere.”
Looking back, something doesn’t compute with all of this outrage. There is no reverberating message, there is no undercurrent to the outrage outside of a trending issue being the flavor of our very accelerated months. While we have mastered the art of instigating, arousing, and organizing, the way social media is used in our time is not doing a good job at mobilizing and sustaining.
We do a good job at making outrage reach a flashpoint, but there isn’t much we’re doing right now to keep the flames of outrage burning. This, I surmise, is the reason why the critics of “the social media lynch mob” are correct for now in saying that advocacies online do not have a commensurate effect in whatever is happening offline.
There’s a big, gaping disconnect that remains valid if our idea of success is for a trending topic to be covered by traditional media (which happens anyway). Or if our idea of success is hinged completely on how many times our hashtags are made, how many times our names are mentioned on other blogs, or how many people “like” the official Facebook fan page of Cause Such-and-Such. That is a disconnect that should be bridged with sustaining the outrage. Why are we outraged? How long can we remain outraged? What do we do about the outrage? What are the tools we can use to act on the outrage? When do we say that we, in social media, have resolved this outrage?
That may sound a little too much like marketing, but in a market full of ideas and causes, advocacy without strategy will not stand a chance of being remembered, much less acted upon. Perhaps they’ll be documented in blogs, at the most. I’m guilty of all of the above, and looking back I believe that jumping on a trending topic because of its newsworthiness is not enough.
Everything is connected, and somehow it behooves us to look at issues as more than trends, but as a continuing struggle for a better world. Topics trend not only because they’re newsworthy, but because they somehow echo things that have already happened. Willie, RH, the coral reefs, divorce laws, and the Spratly Islands should all encourage us to look at the bigger picture where these conversations are taking place: the fragmentation of our nation, which leads to a fragmenting of values. The debate, therefore, should open itself up to the bigger picture where the trend is taking place.
More importantly, the advocacies we participate in should be sustained. Time and again, it’s the piece-by-piece, time-after-time thinking that keeps us from ensuring that not only would our causes be remembered, but that these would also be cascaded to the rest of the population who aren’t connected. The more we keep hopping on bandwagons just because, without thinking of long-term effects or the bigger picture by which a trend takes place, the more we end up with flash-in-the-pan issues that become more of the same in the long run. It doesn’t make social media any less relevant, but a lack of sustaining efforts do compromise its helpfulness.
If #reefwatchPH is to move along further than the issues that precede it, it’s more than just blogs on June 8, 2011. The advocates will be those who will keep talking about this issue, educating people about this issue, and will stay with this issue for as long as it takes for him to help solve it. Otherwise, the fires of outrage that we fan now may just be the flashpoint of one of many matchsticks we’ve lit to the kindling of hashtags over the years.