Meet Canada's Grant Oyston: Can Social Media Trends and Big Data be Trusted in Light of Kony 2012?

Posted by Dan Verhaeghe

Perhaps no one has drawn more attention than a Canadian university student in Nova Scotia named Grant Oyston. He has long questioned the charity behind the Kony 2012 movement.

His website, Visible Children, has garnered over 2.5 million views. After a notorious perception early on, he's starting to look a little better in the public’s eye as the infamous Kony campaign has taken a negative turn for the charity Invisible Children.

The Ugandan people were quite upset about the video, which was screened in front of thousands. They threw rocks at the screen, The National Post reports

"Social media can cut both ways," Oyston said in an interview Tuesday with the Canadian Press. "Millions of people around the world are now aware of an issue that they weren’t before. The issue is whether they have enough information about it to have the right decisions."

The Visible Children website showcases the power that social media can have on amplifying spinoffs of existing real-time popular trends.  It's something that many amateur video producers and video bloggers try to do on YouTube: monetize popular trends to gain advertising revenue from thousands of views. 

Luckily for Oyston, the arrogance surrounding Kony has subsided. He has received death threats—there is even a public relations firm working against him, saying that Oyston was naive and misinformed. Education levels on the topic for the most part have increased since, allowing Oyston's situation to improve.

He did make good points against the cause and cited the very complicated nature of the situation in Uganda—points that Oyston feels have been built on by people more closely connected to the situation.

"It can be a great way to spread a message of awareness very quickly," Oyston told the Herald. "But unless it’s used it can lead people to not do the research and not to have as thorough discussion as they otherwise would." 

Given the turbulent beginnings of the harsh response towards Grant Oyston in the beginning, it was clear that people acted towards Kony 2012 in a very arrogant way—they just wanted to see Joseph Kony pay for his atrocities without knowing any more about the situation. It was all based on one video produced by a charity almost no one had ever heard of. 

All this makes me wonder about society in general. Can we really trust the masses' opinion over a number of smarter people closely connected to the situation? Is society in general under educated? Can we really trust trends as they come into popularity and the big data derived from the gathered "trending information"?

Companies want to visualize all of this data like 2.5 in a 3D way, which Techvibes showcased last month.

People will end up making educated decisions based on that data. Further, it's very easy to spread an infographic to raise awareness about an issue—more people could fall for the wrong statistics. I'm concerned that companies will end up relying solely on the data and not on a combination of data and intuition among other things.

That's what will lead to mistakes: I have said before that the opinion of 100,000 people depends on how educated those 100,000 people are, and I will say it again—big data cannot be everything for a company moving forward, as much as companies want you to believe so. 

Kony 2012 has proven just that. 

Photo: Andrew Vaughan / CP

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Dan Verhaeghe

Dan Verhaeghe

Dan Verhaeghe focuses on marketing, mobile, major technology players, entertainment, and new media. Dan has a dozen years of online experience that dates back to the turn of the millennium where he dominated a now non-existent online RPG game for a couple of years at the age of 15. He would eventually become a Toronto Blue Jays blogger who earned his way into Toronto's CP24 studios six years... more




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