Tag Archives: poverty

Changing the world one tweet at a time

19 May


A couple of weeks ago I whored out my social media feeds in the name of free concert tickets.

I am usually a jealous curator of my social media accounts, but last year a few do-gooding tweets on behalf of ‘Global Citizen’ had been enough to gain two tickets to a great festival in Central Park.

So this year when Global Citizen emailed me to say that through a little more clicktivism, I’d be able to earn tickets to a whole bunch of shows by a whole bunch of great artists, I immediately leapt into action. My Twitter feed began to fill with uplifting bites and links about ending poverty.

The tweet storm did not last very long. As I clicked around the Global Citizen site, it became clear to me that the odds of getting concert tickets were infinitely smaller than last year. The decision to stop tweeting had absolutely nothing to do with any sense of global citizenship, poverty alleviation or other do-goodery: it was entirely a question of the rapidly diminishing odds of scoring tickets to Grizzly Bear, coupled with a vague sense that endorsing Global Citizen just made me seem naïve.

Why would I be so squeamish about promoting good causes on a social media account that is otherwise largely dedicated to sarcasm and snark? Simply put, I don’t think the Global Citizen project works.

I don’t have any stats or figures to back this up. I don’t know how far Global Citizen has advanced the cause of polio eradication. Then again, it seems that Global Citizen doesn’t know either, or if they do, they’re not being forthcoming with info. The site mentions only that its members/supporters contributed an unidentified amount to a global pool of funds to combat the disease

In any case, my scepticism isn’t based on numbers. Rather it’s based on the set of assumptions that underpin the sort of activism promoted by Global Citizen.

Specifically, it’s the comfortableness of this mode of activism that I think is the problem. It is the idea that to reduce poverty and eradicate disease, all we have to do is more of what we’re already doing. Like concerts? Go to more concerts and help beat poverty. Like Twitter? Tweet harder and promote gender equality. Beneath such assumptions is the notion that the current political order, the models of consumption and distribution, and the balances of power, are all fine just the way they are. They just need people to believe in them, to do them more vigorously, and we’ll have a better world.

It’s the same sort of mentality that says you can buy boutique footwear and improve the lives of children in Africa, or that through carbon offsetting you can fly as often as you want, and do so secure in the knowledge that your lifestyle has no negative environmental impact.

What’s missing is any idea of renunciation: that we might all have to give something up in order for others to gain anything. That the systems that benefit us may cause detriment to others, and that we might have to break a few things that we like – whether habits or big old transnational systems – in order to affect any real change.

I’d love to believe in armchair activism – I’m a fan of concerts and twitter and gas-guzzling international flights – and if Global Citizen ever does offer tickets to a Grizzly Bear show in New York, I’ll be sure to whore out my twitter feed once again. But I won’t pretend I’m really changing anything. If there were some stats or figures that said otherwise, I’d be very happy and would dedicate even more of my time to changing the world one tweet at a time. I suspect, however, that any really activism or change will have to come from a far deeper and less comfortable place.