Well done, the internet

In Opinion on February 6, 2014 at 11:17 AM

The internet – just a vessel for misogyny, narcissism, nutty conspiracy theorists, hate and porn. That’s what people say, isn’t it? But I don’t think so. Being 25, I suppose I belong to the ‘internet generation’. At the beginning, when we and the internet, notably social media, were in our formative years, this view kind of held true. But now I see far more links to charities, intelligent videos on reforming society one way or another, amazing (if arguably self-indulgent) photos from around the world and such like. And also men and women in various states of undress of course, but there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that.

And, contrary to the idea of social media as an introspective, image-obsessed and bitter pit of vacuousness and lolcats, I find, in my circles at least, there is a nice sense of sharing in one’s achievements. Statuses talking about basically good things in life like passing one’s driving test, getting a job, graduating, running a marathon, getting married, having a kid etc are typically told with understandable pride but without straying into arrogance or gloating. And they typically receive a lot of likes and positive comments. As simple as a ‘like’ is, I appreciate when someone, whether I actually still talk to them or not, effectively says ‘well done, that’s a good thing you’ve done’.

So basically, using the internet for what the amazing tool it is – something that can spread knowledge and stories from the smallest corner of the far side of the world in just a click of a button. Which is precisely what happened recently, when experienced skydiver Ben Cornick found his parachute was broken mid-dive over Fiji. Miracously, he managed to survive, after slowing his fall and hitting a van at over 45mph. Needless to say, he was not in a good way, though, and needed £20,000 upfront to pay to fly him for an emergency leg-saving operation in New Zealand, not having the correct travel insurance. However, after friends and family created a Facebook page, donations poured in, and the total of around £30,000 got Ben to New Zealand for the life-saving medical work..

Here are a few of the most heartwarming stories to have come from the good ol’ interweb…

A homeless man in Kansas City, Billy Ray Harris, returned an engagement ring which a woman had dropped into his cup. The husband of the woman set up an online donation, which, after being shared on various news and social media, raised a staggering $180,000. Not only was Mr Harris able to buy himself a new house and car, he was reunited with family members he had not seen in 16 years, who had seen his selfless deed make headlines across not just his community but much of the rest of the country and world too.

Aged just six, a ‘wee’ (his words) Scottish boy called Jack Henderson, “the little boy with the big art”, came up with an idea so lovely and creative that it would probably melt even Voldemort or Murdoch’s heart. Regularly visiting his brother Noah in hospital with a serious lung problem, he decided, entirely of his own volition, to start Jack Draws Anything, a site where people request a drawing and Jack draws it, in return for a donation to the Sick Kids Foundation. He also came up with all the words, branding, colours, them tune and chose chose the charity. At the time he hit the news, in the summer of 2011, he was working his way through over 500 requests from over 115 countries. And recently, he earned £13,000 for drawing golf stars, bringing the total Jack has raised to £64,677 – quite possibly the most a kid of less than ten has ever earnt.

…However, kids aren’t always as nice. After American 7th graders’ persistent and brutal bullying of school bus monitor Karen Huff Klein, some directed at her son who committed suicide, went viral – and Klein declined to press charges against the students, partly due to death threats the students received – CNN anchor Anderson Cooper revealed that Southwest Airlines offered to pay for a trip for Klein and nine people of her choosing to Disneyland for three nights. And Max Sidorov, a victim of bullying as a child, started a campaign on fundraising site Indiegogo with the aim of raising $5,000 for a vacation for Klein. Over 32,000 people from 84 countries came together to raise a mammoth $650,000, $100,000 of which she has put towards founding the Karen Klein Anti-Bullying Foundation, which promotes its message of kindness at concerts and through books, and more of which she has used to help friends and family.

The spirit of Cool Runnings, the loosely fictionalised tale of a plucky foursome of Jamaican bobsledders at the Winter Olympics, obviously still lives strong. Fans have raised over $25,000, largely in alternative internet currency Dogecoin, to fund the current Jamaican two-man bobsleigh team’s trip to next month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, after driver Winston Watts, at the ripe old age of 46, having come out of retirement in 2010, revealed how much it meant to him but that he could not spend any more than the £100,000 he claims to have ploughed into his dream. It was revealed just yesterday the pair had qualified and therefore become entitled to all local expenses through the games’ Organising Committee and, in separate but linked news, that the Jamaican Olympic Association had agreed to significant funding. So out of the financial woods to some extent, though Watts still claims they are hoping for help. Hopefully more will want to feel the rhythm, feel the ride and get on up because, on Sunday the 16th of February, in Putin’s hardly diversity-loving Russia, it will be bobsleigh time…

Okay, I know this is a controversial choice, as the whole #Kony2012 thing ended up hugely discredited in many quarters; both politically – with the revelations of the charity’s huge use of self-promotion and the accusations of ‘white saviour complex’/ bad politics and history – and personally, with Invisible Children founder Jason Russell soon after being found masturbating in public after a meltdown. (I view Russell’s behaviour a bit more sympathetically than that tabloid description suggests, but my point was that this was a popular view). But to its credit the campaign did, as Russell reflected a year on, raise a lot of awareness through the discussion provoked by what an undeniably ‘effective’, ‘clever’ campaign. (I don’t consider myself a complete idiot, but I was fairly sold on it when I was first watched it – sentiments I know are shared by others.) It proved campaigning with a strident (if trite) moral message and Kanye West music will garner far, far more interest than complex, detailed reports from the UN or humanitarian agencies. Say what you like about Kony, but it’s getting more coverage than what a senior UN official describes as “butchery” and the “seeds of genocide” in the Central African Republic currently, where an estimated 1 million displaced have been displaced recently and a predicted 1,000 were killed in December in just two days’ of violence.

…On to some happier news. As the reaction to Tom Daley’s recent coming out statement proved, the internet is now pretty good at not being nasty gay people. Of course, the internet is not the thing which actually has the attitudes, but a lot of those with less progressive views simply will be too old to know how to use a computer, let alone Facebook or Twitter (not to say all old people are bigots or all youngsters are socially progressive, but there is a definite trend on attitudes to homosexuality generational differences. Also, while offhand comments such as ‘that’s gay’ are still prominent in schools (whether you find that serious or not), and gay bullying is still alarmingly prevalent in schools, it’s heartening to know that gay bullying has, according to Stonewall, dropped 65% since 2007. I don’t think this trend and recent high-profile, social media-shared coming-outs such as Daley’s, Frank Ocean’s and Robbie Rogers’ (an unotherwise unremarkable footballer, but the fact he is a footballer is something) are merely coincidence.

But the internet isn’t just full of self-righteous Guardian readers. There’s been quite a few recent trends beating fusty old bigotry in perhaps the best way possible – laughing at it. Satirising it to show how stupid it is. Most recently, and perhaps most brilliantly, in the case of the satirical UkipWeather Twitter account, which has a lot of fun with the idea that homosexuality affects the weather, in light of Ukip councillor for Henley-on-Thames David Silvester’s claims that the UK’s introduction of gay marriage caused the floods over the Christmas period. For example: “A period of calm as a group of women go shopping for shoes. However, storm clouds will form when one of them suggests going to Millets.” And: “Amber flood alert issued for Tewkesbury after a man won £50 on a scratchcard and said ‘oh my god!’ 3 times in quick succession.”. Another trend very worthy of mention is the alternative EDL – English Disco Lovers. This attacks xenophobia and borderline racism through the power of disco. As they say, they are for “fewer xenophobes and more strobes”.

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