03/20/2012 11:31 EDT | Updated 05/20/2012 05:12 EDT

I Helped Spread Kony2012 and Mike Daisey's Lies. So What?


Who else got sucked in by Mike Daisey's critique of Apple's armed and poisonous manufacturing operations in China? Who else was ready to take to the streets and cover the night with posters to raise awareness of the Ugandan war lord Joseph Kony and his army of stolen and raped children?

I'm the target audience for promo videos on evildoing and good deeds. I'm quick to show moral indignation. My proudly held, but sometimes knee-jerk progressive politics have, on more than one occasion, been fed by dogma rather than full information. While my politics don't rule me the way they did 20 years ago, my suck-in ability remains strong.

I listened to Mike Daisey, I believed Mike Daisey, and I spread the gospel according to Mike Daisey. I still love what he has to say about our nostalgia for things "hand-made" and the silence on Chinese factory floors as thousands of people do just that. I shouldn't feel bad. This American Life's Ira Glass and millions of others believed him. But that's not the point.

I watched Kony 2012, Jason Russell's viral video call for global action and cash. I Facebook shared it, adding my own inspirational phrase about the power of individuals and technology to change the world. Then the internet was flooded with criticism of Russell and his organization -- everything from un-audited financial statements and self-promotion, implied endorsements from famous actors, and manipulation of his own kid, to financial backing from anti-gay evangelical Christians, and public masturbation. I took down my post, feeling embarrassed, hoping no one had seen it.

It's easy to get sucked in. But in the past, the damage of short-lived, uninformed zeal was limited to how many people you could talk to about it until the truth, or another-side of the story surfaced. Then you could withdraw quickly to the middle or opposite end of the debate.

On Facebook, germs of information spread instantaneously and exponentially. Just press share. By the time you call anything into question, thousands of others have passed it on. Often with the best of intentions.

I'm neither a journalist nor a researcher. While "millions of others were sucked in," is not a good enough excuse for leaping before I look, I wonder about my responsibility in passing bad facts.

In this era of immediate information we all want to be in the conversation, not running behind listening to it from a day-old distance. Maybe most people don't give a damn if they were incorrect. Like spelling mistakes in e-mail, it's a bi-product of expediency. Get over it. No one will remember what was tweeted or posted an hour ago. But it embarrasses me to get it wrong.

So what part of it is wrong, and what does it mean to get it right? How sure do you have to be? Joseph Kony is evil. Invisible Children has called attention to something -- a tragedy few North Americans knew or cared about until they watched the video. Is that a bad thing? Mike Daisey was raising awareness of oppressive labour conditions in China. Does it matter whether Apple is the worst offender?

Watching something like Kony 2012 go viral filled me with hope. Seeing that bubble popped, almost simultaneously, with a hundred pins of criticism -- many valid and troubling, some just envious lemon suckers joining forces with sour grapes -- was nonetheless demoralizing.

Being certain, and being certain that others are certain before taking action, is both advisable and debilitating. We live in a world driven by self-interest and apathy. Is some action, however flawed, better than no action at all? And do the rest of us jump on board or take a lesson in caution and wait for certainty?

Find me a movement for change that's pure in intention, unpolluted by self-interest. It's impossible. Human beings are at the helm. As for the performance artist, his bite into the giant Apple was indeed embellished with exaggerated stats and false associations. We can be sure Apple won't suffer for that.

How much time have we collectively spent taking down these two destructive forces? Mike Daisey's career may be in the toilet. Jason Russell was hospitalized, likely from being run over by the character-shredding bandwagon.

I don't know either of these men. Are they manipulative? Probably. Do they care about these issues? Likely. Is that beside the point? Plenty of people think it is. I'm not taking sides, but witnessing the tsunami of public humiliation over the past few weeks makes me wonder how you figure out what's worth doing.