Does Social Media “Know It’s Christmas” – The Roots of Social Media’s Activism May Reside in 1984

If Orwell’s 1984 ever imagined the impact of the 1984’s Do They Know It’s Christmas, “Big Brother” would have certainly taken Bob Geldorf to “Room 101” for some serious re-education. Recorded on December 7, 1984 by a collection of rock stars performing as “Band Aid,” the single and subsequent 1985 summer bi-continental concert, “Live Aid,” raised almost $300 million for Ethiopian famine relief.

Our collective social action palette was already well familiar with celebrity driven causes such as the annual MDA Jerry Lewis Telethon. However, Do We Know They Know It’s Christmas and “Live Aid” were conceived not by an established non-profit, but by the celebrities themselves after watching an October 1984 BBC documentary featuring horrific images of millions of people starving to death in Ethiopia . Within weeks, Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof working with other musicians and industry talent wrote, recorded and released what would become the fastest selling single ever in Britain, just before Christmas.

“Band Aid” illustrated the ability to engage unengaged people around the globe on behalf of a cause utilizing celebrity appeal, music, technology and devastating imagery. And though this groundbreaking form of activism reveals much about the power of celebrity and music, it also foreshadowed the ability of today’s social media to almost overnight educate, inform, and activate millions of people on behalf of a cause.

In 1984, the internet remained little more than an academic pipe dream. Sure, Domain Name Server (DNS) was introduced and the number of hosts broke 1,000 but few people outside of academic laboratories in Northern California even knew the word, “internet.” And until the period of 1993-1994, with the WWW Revolution and true commercialization, few people accessed the net. Now, with political campaigns and charitable causes raising millions, Facebook directing revolutions in the Middle East, and dictatorial governments fighting against broadband access instead of access to books, how many and how quickly people can be moved is more often the question.

This is not to suggest a direct line from “Band Aid” to Social Media. Bob Geldof invented neither the internet nor Facebook. However, something changed in December of 1984 regarding how people respond to calls for social engagement that evolved to our current means of social communication. More Al Gorean than Orwellian, but a future not predicted by either gentleman.

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