I’m a fan of internet activism. Signing petitions, getting information out there, Kickstarters, awareness and visibility days, hashtag campaigns and all the rest. I think it’s a good thing and I think that we should keep doing it. It is a way for people (like me) who may not be able to something else to still be a part of something good.
There has been discussion in the media about how much this kind of thing helps. I understand the skepticism. I also think it’s a good question. I do not have an answer, but I think it’s a worthy question. This post, however, is not about that.
This post is about politicians.
The prime minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, decided to tackle the problem of school bullying, a problem that needs addressing in our modern times. As more and more kids are being bullied to the point of taking their own lives, any move to help them is good in my book. They need help and protection. They need adults who will listen to them, who will do all they can to fix the problem and provide the support that both bullied and bully need. I welcome any attempts to work on their behalf, even if it is from someone with whom I do not share political views.
Is it a program? Funding for counselling services in schools? Help for schools to educate and address bullying problems? A commission to compile evidence on the problem and recommend solutions?
Nope. It’s a YouTube video.
The leader of Australia’s idea of helping bullied kids is to post a YouTube video saying he is “behind them” when it comes to bullying. He says all the right things in the video, of course. “We’re all different,” we are special,” “bullying is hurtful and wrong,” etc. There’s also the matter of appointing some commissioner and fining social media companies that don’t take down offensive material when asked, but it’s no innovation when it comes to fixing the problem of bullying. It’s not even a new thing for Australia. Such laws and oversights already existed in this country before Abbott said anything about it.
So what do we have here? We have a politician trying to be ‘hip’ and keep up with the young people by doing what they do, a bit of YouTube activism. But he’s not doing anything to fix the problem. He has substituted action for a gimmick move that no one really cares about.
I support internet activism. It gets people involved who might not have done anything else. But when a politician substitutes internet activism for substantive change and support, things have gone too far.
Politicians should be trying to update their tactics, to meet people where they are, which is increasingly online. President Obama is one person who has proven that the internet can be used effectively to engage with people who would not otherwise care (i.e., young people). But Abbott’s YouTube message is an excuse. It’s a grab for attention, an opportunity to say, “Look at me! I care!” without doing any of the work to actually help anyone.
The whole “I’m Behind You” thing is part of an ongoing campaign to let bullied kids know that they’re not alone and that people care about them and support them. I understand that the prime minister’s message was part of that. But unlike many people who do internet activism because they can do nothing else, Tony Abbott can do something. He has no excuse for not.