The past two weeks have been a primer for what will become the new paradigm in media.
The first story that exploded onto the information superhighway was a YouTube video promoting the work of the organization Invisible Children. Co-founder Jason Russell produced a 30-minute video to spotlight the tyranny of Joseph Kony. Kony operates a terrorist network in Uganda and other central African countries.
The video was uploaded to YouTube on March 5 and was received with relatively mild enthusiasm in the first days after it was posted. It garnered just 30,000 views in its first day. Then it found its way to Twitter. A young woman from Australia with just 29 followers tweeted to Oprah Winfrey about the documentary. Oprah in turn tweeted it to her 9.6 million followers.
By the end of the week, the video had garnered more than 20 million views and was the lead story for many news outlets. As of this writing, the video has more than 83 million views. As a result, the organization has received unparalleled attention and financial support. The Kony movement is thriving.
In an ironic twist, this past weekend demonstrated that social media is a blade that cuts both ways. Russell had what I can only describe as a complete breakdown, naked and on the streets in San Diego. It was a tragic scene, and one caught on video from several angles.
Entertainment gossip site TMZ was the first to post the video, and it, too, went viral. If you are not familiar with TMZ, become so. It is a site that is as influential as any mainstream media source and one that has a profound influence on our youth. Russell will never be the same.
There are many lessons to be culled from these events. First and foremost, there is no privacy — at least not once you step out your front door. Cameras are everywhere, and once there is any kind of action they start to roll. If you want privacy, stay in your home and close the blinds.
Another more heartbreaking and disturbing event crowded the social media networks this past week. If you are not familiar with the name Trayvon Martin, I urge you to become so. Martin was an African-American teen gunned down by a crazed vigilante in — can you guess? — Florida. Martin was walking home with an iced tea and bag of Skittles when he was stalked and then murdered by self-proclaimed neighborhood watch commander George Zimmerman.
Zimmerman was not detained and has not been arrested. In spite of the fact that 9-1-1 tapes from that night clearly indicate he was slurring his words, he was not given a sobriety or drug test. It took FBI and Justice Department involvement to pressure the state into initiating a grand jury investigation.
Twenty years ago, Martin’s death would have been ignored and slipped into oblivion. Not so today. I do not know if the name Trayvon Martin will be the name associated with a radical change that is on the horizon. But there will be a name, and it is coming.
If you have not sensed the growing tension in the USA, beware. One story that has not yet gone viral was the release last week of census data on the distribution of wealth in this country. Santa Barbara County was ranked among the worst.
There will be an event that will spark a call for dramatic change. Only it won’t unfold slowly as it has in our past. It will move as fast as information moves across the Internet. It will be informed not by traditional news sources, but by people on the streets reinforced with dramatic video and sound.
There is a new paradigm. We will all be better off if we embrace that paradigm, respect its strength and appreciate the power it has to engender radical change in the span of a few key strokes.
There will be a name. It is coming. Be prepared.