There’s a lot of hype about the transformative power of social tools in driving political and societal change, and equal amounts of discourse busting some of the prevailing myths (Evgeny Morozov in particular, most stuff in one place at his Net Effect blog).
But regime change apart, what’s undeniable is how the ease of creating, sharing and remixing is making a real tangible difference to people’s lives on an individual level. And when that’s a lot of indviduals, it adds up to a whole lot more.
One of my favourite initiatives of last year, which continues to flourish, is the It Gets Better Project. I wish the project didn’t have a reason for being – it was started by columnist Dan Savage as a response to the suicide of teenager Billy Lucas, which had followed a tragic number of suicides by other teenagers who were bullied because they were gay, or because their peers suspected that they were gay.
Savage explained about the founding of the project:
“I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes. I wish I could have told Billy that it gets better. I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better.”
And so, he and his partner of 16 years Terry Miller kicked things off with a video message to share their own experiences and their own message of hope to bullied teens, that it gets better:
It grew. Quickly. Over 200 videos were uploaded in the first week, and the project’s YouTube channel reached the 650 video limit in the next week. It’s now housed on its own website aggregating thousands of videos from users’ own channels, and includes more than 5,000 entries from people of all sexual orientations. A book is due to be published in March.
Equally, tonnes of non-LGBT videos have been posted in solidarity – because bullying, prejudice and discrimination are issues that concern us all. Yes, this includes such luminaries as Janet Jackson, Ke$ha, Kim Kardashian, Jason Derulo, Eve, Joel Madden, – but whatever you may think of their ‘art’, these stars are popular and rightly or wrongly they have a lot of influence insofar as a lot of people listen to what they have to say. And so if they’re promoting a positive message like this, well, more power to them, frankly.
It was picked up in the UK by Stonewall and localised – It Gets Better Today – We Can Make It Happen. There’s a tonne of campaigning activity being led by Stonewall, including all the grassroots outreach and policy work you’d expect, but also rallying leading UK figures to support the campaign with their own video messages – including Theresa May MP, Diane Abbott MP, Lynne Featherstone MP, Ben Bradshaw MP, Lance Corporal James Wharton (member of the Household Cavalry who married his husband at his military barracks), Clare Balding, Rhona Cameron, Sue Perkins, Stella Duffy and Sarah Waters.
And yes, there’s a bit of bandwagon-jumping. But nevertheless, video messages from the likes of Barack Obama and David Cameron, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg (NY City Mayor) and Neelie Kroes (Vice President of the European Commission), amongst others, publicly stating their support for the campaign and the message it’s promoting, speaks volumes and in my mind can only be a good thing.
Same for companies. Google employees, Facebook employees and Pixar employees, amongst many others, shared their own experiences. (And obviously, the ad industry got involved too, with Razorfish employees making their own video too).
But there are also incredibly heartwrenching and deeply moving videos in support of the project – I’d urge you to watch this impassioned speech from Fort Worth City Councillor Joel Burns at a city council meeting – it’s a phenomenally inspiring message from a politician in a state not known for its tolerance, and has rightly earned a huge amount of media attention across the US:
And hundreds and hundreds of videos from people all over the world, sharing their own stories & messages of hope & inspiration.
And of course the idea gets remixed. And shared.
Like Rebecca Drysdale’s It Gets Better Music Video (this rocks):
And so it goes. And grows.
It’s not regime change, it’s not a Twitter revolution, but it’s real life. If it helps prevent one more needless suicide from a bullied teen, it’ll be pretty immense. Hopefully it will achieve much much more.
The web may just be a series of tubes, but those tubes connect real people. And that’s pretty awesome.