Now that Joseph Kony is in jail thanks to everyone tweeting that Kony 2012 video (he is, right?) all future activism will consist of slick viral videos which online mobs will tweet incessantly at everyone in the hopes of annoying them into action. But this sort of online mobtivism can easily backfire, as the case of Sharecraft shows.
ShareCraft is the brainchild of Belgian professional video gamer Bachir "Athene" Boumaaza, who calls himself the "world's most famous record-breaking professional gamer" on his YouTube page. Athene is the bad boy of the professional gaming world—even gamers love a personality—and has used his nerd celebrity to fashion a weird self-help cult called the I Power Project, where thousands of self-fashioned "Self-Development Activists" hang out and talk about living a "pro-active lifestyle."
Last month, Athene launched Sharecraft, announcing he was going to raise $1 million for Save the Children in a YouTube video that features much YELLING and SUPER-QUICK edits and DRAMATIC MUSIC! "Today I don't feel alone in my fight against everything that's wrong in the world," he says.
One of Athene's tactics in promoting Sharecraft has been instructing his followers to "tweetbomb" celebrities during live webcasts with his Sharecraft videographer Reese Leysen. Last night one of those celebrities was Boing Boing editor Xeni Jardin, who is currently undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. Jardin was not thrilled by the sudden flood of spam, tweeting at Leysen.
— Xeni Jardin (@xeni) April 19, 2012
In accordance with Sayre's law, people engaged in the low stakes of online activism are the ones who can be the most outwardly fierce about it. Jardin's ambivalence angered a bunch of Athene's hive, who bombarded her with dozens of abusive, sexist messages like "Burn in hell, whore" and "I hope you die of cancer," even creating anonymous accounts specifically to troll her.
As Ethan Zuckerman points out, OpShareCraft represents a scaling-down of the sort of tweet bombing that was used in Kony 2012, to spam celebrities like Barack Obama or Oprah or Justin Bieber. But Jardin has a much smaller following, and uses Twitter more like "normal" than some celebrity with 8,000,000 followers and a social media staff looking over their accounts. Why should she have to endure abuse for dismissing charity spam she never asked for?
This is the double-edge of the sort of social media activism that's been in vogue, best embodied by the anti-SOPA agitating of Reddit, Anonymous and Kony 2012. It lowers the threshold for participation, which is good. But it can lower it so much that people are no longer dedicated to the cause as much as the animal satisfaction of joining a digital stampede. The hive harnessed by a wacky video game dude to raise $1 million for kids can easily turn into a pitchfork-wielding mob against those who don't play along.
Update: Sharecraft's Reese Leysen emails:
Just wanted to mention Xeni has long before your article's publication apologized (on Twitter, check her tweets) for correlating the negative tweets with ShareCraft and our projects and said that she is not upset with us and now understands our intentions better. I'm letting you know because we're getting flooded with complaints about the article spreading inaccurate information about the charity project and it might backfire for Gawker.
In any case I want to thank you for covering the event! We're working insanely hard to raise more awareness around what is now the worst hunger crisis in 60 years for the Horn of Africa and while we do not benefit personally in any way (we are just promoting Save The Children's work independently and donations go to their Paypal), we obviously welcome all coverage.