From the Youtube videos I made years ago criticising the Singapore Government and religion, to my eventual arrest, I became extremely popular. My story was reported on national and international news sites like CNN, BBC, The New Yorker. The name 'Amos Yee' is literally a household name in Singapore.
Yet upon reflection, because of the rude, attention-seeking manner I used to present my message, despite all the fame I had, I didn't actually change anything.
The people who came to my defense, or even protested for me on the streets when I got arrested, those people had already agreed with me even before my videos. But in terms of changing the minds of people who were unaware or on the fence on the issues, I'm not sure I convinced any of them, in fact I might have even turned them away.
Being popular doesn't mean you're influential, even though people are talking about you, it doesn't mean you're changing their behavior in a meaningful way. Of course for any successful individual or movement will eventually gain widespread attention, but that doesn't mean attention by itself leads to change. Behavioral science shows raising awareness to an important message, but with poor execution, could cause no action or even harm.
The most notorious example is the animal right's group, PETA. The message they're trying to spread is great: eating meat and dairy contributes to the killing of innocent animals and so people should stop eating animal products. Yet their advertising is having humans protest naked on the streets with fake blood, and writing articles like how Animal Crossing isn't Vegan or 'Meat Interrupts your Sex Life!'. PETA is massively popular, yet most people think they're a joke, which contributes to animal rights activism having a worse reputation.
Many times content that changes behavior might not necessarily be the most attention grabbing. A peaceful discussion between two open-minded people is less eye-catching than loud, angry internet debates. A respectful, well thought out criticism of religion might be less talked about than taking a shit on the Quran. But I think I'll take changing the minds of 1-2 people over having thousands erupt in unproductive noise any day.
So the next time you see or create something that is popular, make sure to ask yourself 'does this actually change things for the better?'. They say 'all publicity is good publicity', no it isn't
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