A few weeks ago, the world was introduced to Victoria Wilcher, a Mississippi toddler who was left disfigured after her grandfather's dog attacked her. Her family took to Facebook not only in hopes of raising money for medical care, but to share their heartbreak after they were asked to leave their local KFC because Victoria's face was apparently scaring other customers. Inevitably, the Internet went crazy and the story went viral, and once KFC bigwigs got wind of this atrocity, they pledged $30,000 to help with medical expenses.
However employees at the location in question remained adamant that this never took place, and two separate investigations found little evidence to support the claims of Victoria's grandmother. Even the day's receipts showed that nobody ordered mashed potatoes and lemonade; the snack they allegedly shared that afternoon. Thus, while KFC plans on keeping their $30,000 promise, Facebook activists are left with that painfully empty feeling of being duped and an innocent three-year-old, who is already going through enough, now resides at the center of a scandal.
This isn't the first time the Internet has (gasp) lied to us. Remember Dayna Morales? The waitress who posted the now-infamous credit card receipt with a violent slash though the tip line and a handwritten note which read: "I'm sorry, but I cannot tip because I do not agree with your lifestyle," in reference to her sexual orientation. The web was all aflutter, as folks posted and reposted their disdain for such hate-filled opinions. There was even a crowdfunding campaign set up in Morales' honor to raise money in lieu of the $0 tip. This resulted in an outpour of love, generosity, and thousands of dollars. But just as we were ready to move on with our lives, collectively satisfied with our efforts, a couple surfaced after realizing it was their receipt that had been the subject of such scrutiny. They went on the news clutching an identical copy of their receipt with a tip scribbled in alongside a bank statement verifying the amount debited from their account aligns with the total bill plus a 20% tip. The couple was dumbfounded as to why they were targeted for this prank, continuing to insist that they not only tipped accordingly, but strongly disagree with ideas of homophobia.
One of the most brilliantly written shows on television today is Comedy Central's Nathan For You; a satirical, fix-my-business game show in which Nathan, the business expert, offers outlandish solutions to eager business owners to help revamp their struggling business. After one idea resulted in a viral video which garnered over nine million views and worldwide new coverage, he came to the realization that "people just want something to believe in so bad."
So, do we blame the thieves and liars who have found a way to deviously monetize human decency? Or, is it our fault for being so obsessed with breaking stories on personal newsfeeds and vehemently conveying personal politics, that we are barely finished the article before we are clicking Share and drafting the most eloquent caption of all time?
Armchair activism, or Slacktivism, started out as a good thing. It was the mid 90s, when technology was on the rise, rap was still awesome, and Slacktivism was originally coined to describe a new collective of folks who were able to organize and educate from the comfort of their armchairs. Neo-activists were leveraging new mediums, which enabled them to dispatch their messages, and dispatch rally invites to a wider network than ever before.
Fast forward to today, and the term activism has become such a cliché, we have become unsure of its actual meaning. Take online petitions for example, or what I consider to be the ultimate in Slacktivism technology. Two types of people are at the helm of these initiatives: the proud Slacktivist who feels like this is him/her doing enough; and the descendent of the Internet generation, who honestly think this is their best option for getting involved. Either way ... c'mon.
I dug into some research on the effectiveness of online petitions and while success stories do exist I was unable to find a single one that was 100% initiated via the petition, without any personal lobbying or network utilization (please correct me if I'm wrong).
Naysayers of this brand of naysaying concur that at minimum, these efforts get a dialogue started. However in recent history, fewer laws have been changed or even challenged by activists of this generation than any other. So should we shrug our shoulders and take solace in the fact that it's better than nothing, or do we challenge ourselves to do our due diligence and lend our efforts only to causes we've deemed legitimate?
All I know is that if I feel good in my heart, there's a strong chance I've made a real difference... right?