South Park and Social Media

Social media is an incredible tool to promote activism and raise awareness.  However, no matter what the cause, there are always people willing to exploit it for financial gain.  Last week, Comedy Central’s show South Park made fun of Lance Armstrong (and the recent discovery of his drug use) and the US’s obsession with the Livestrong bracelets.  In this clip, they talk about how people become so engrossed with whatever global cause they are ‘wearing on their wrists’ that they forget about why they were supporting the cause to begin with.  I think that this is applicable to the role of social media and the existence of virtual activism today.

In Anna Hamilton’s post this week, she wrote, “One potential problem with virtual activism is that it may take the place of conventional activism, which is far more involved and effective.”  I think that this is a very interesting point.  People all over the world use social media to raise global awareness and send and/or organize aid for the causes they support.  However, virtual activism can only do so much; the concern that it may replace conventional activism is a valid one.

The South Park episode pokes fun at people for treating global causes like fashion accessories – spending more time advertising your support than actually doing something about it.  Obviously, social media is used in super legitimate, globally beneficial ways by many people/organizations, and the surge in virtual activism is a wonderful, important aspect of ICT development.  However, many people end up spreading false information with detrimental effects (i.e. mass re-tweeting a fake picture of the Statue of Liberty underwater, as we discussed in class today) because they don’t take enough time to verify the validity of the information.  If people post statuses/tweets/blogs about current events, you’d think they would want them to be correct, right?   It’s good to raise awareness, but only if it’s for the right reasons.

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2 responses to “South Park and Social Media

  • aspiros01

    Creative idea, sharing this! I watched the South Park episode and could not help laughing, but was left a bit sad.. Passion for global issues is admirable but it is strange when certain causes become “trendy.” While watching I could not help but to think about HIV/AIDS and how so many people in the medical anthropology and public health field consider it to be a “sexy” disease to discuss in classes and in the media while there are plenty of others that are more detrimental to the US and throughout the world. No one should scold others for wanting to wear a bracelet for a cause to spread awareness or contribute a few dollars! Raising awareness is never a bad thing, but South Park does an effective job in illuminating this trend…

  • hpohnan

    Episodes like this are why I enjoy South Park so much. It’s true, there are people definitely fetishizing causes they support, sometimes to the point where they are utterly far flung from the original reason they wanted to help. A friend of mine recently referred to Hurricane Sandy as a blessing because it ravaged Haiti (again) and that meant that when she traveled there to volunteer, there would be more people for her to help. I commend the fact that she wants to help as many people as possible, but her comment left me uneasy, and seemed to miss the point completely. Isn’t it better to solve the problem completely than to make more work for yourself? It seemed an awful lot like the trend you are describing. People are completely fixated on their own act of ‘service’ and less so on the actual cause or people they are hoping to help.

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