Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=133881
Story Retrieval Date: 5/18/2013 3:46:47 PM CST
Courtesy of Astra Moore
Max Jones is 12 years old. He anchors an online television news program in Orlando. Julianne Chaloux is 17. She's home schooled in Manchester, N.H.
Though not yet old enough to drink or vote, both have become leaders in a growing grassroots movement – begun and nurtured on Facebook – to free Current TV reporter Laura Ling and her producer Euna Lee, sentenced this weekend to 12 years in North Korean labor camps for allegedly illegally entering the isolated, communist country.
Jones is an officer of the group “Detained in North Korea: Journalist Lisa Ling and Euna Lee, please help,” with 16,000 members and growing.
After a neighbor sent him an invitation to join, Jones’s advisor at “Weekend News Today” – an online news program with 11,000 viewers, where he is a reporter – thought the group would make a good story. After interviewing group members, Jones decided to get involved, becoming an officer and even organizing a vigil last month.
“It’s overly-exceeded my expectations,” he said, “because so many people out there have been so kind – they just want to help.”
He’s also schooled his fellow pre-teens, most of whom don’t follow the news as closely. “Some of my friends, they’re just, like, “I’ve never heard of that name – Euna -- before,” he said. “But every adult has been so nice to me and been thankful that I’m so involved in this.”
Meanwhile, Chaloux, who interned for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and thus knows the power of Facebook and social media, founded the group “North Korea: Free Laura Ling and Euna Lee,” which has drawn 2,131 members.
After Ling and Lee were detained on March 17, Chaloux noticed a lack of media attention on the case and took matters into her own hands.
“I was looking at news articles and was surprised by the lack of outrage over the fact that these two women were being held,” she said. “These women worked so hard on social issues and I want to make sure people know their story. I really appreciate the work that Laura and Euna have done, and I wanted to make sure that their story was heard.”
She said Facebook has been an integral part of the building movement, which culminated in vigils in cities across the country on June 3, the night before the women were scheduled to go on trial in Pyongyang.
“There’s a ripple effect with Facebook all the time,” said Chaloux, who hopes to one day become a diplomat. “There have been a couple really successful groups, and they’ve been really useful in planning vigils all across the country using Facebook and Twitter.”
An expanding network of influence
In Rutherford, New Jersey, Astra Moore, 30, who founded one of the first pro-Ling and Lee groups, felt the same way. A fan of Ling’s from before the detention, Moore’s television is “usually on, and it’s set to Current.”
During the period following the women’s detention when both Current and the State department were virtually silent, “I had emailed a couple of people at Current and received no response. It was very frustrating that they weren’t talking about it at all… there is a feeling that [using Facebook] is the only thing we can do.”
After starting a group, she invited 400 Facebook friends to join and later promoted it with a paid ad on the site. “A lot of times the only way things get done is when people get together,” she said.
It’s an action that would no doubt make Ling proud. “All of her stories were trying to shed light on how other people were suffering and how we can keep them from suffering,” Moore said, “and that’s why I feel so strongly about this.”
Brendan McShane Creamer, of whose group Jones is an officer, is a Philadelphia-based photographer for the Associated Press who got to know former “View” co-host Lisa Ling – Laura’s sister – through mutual friends before her arrest.
“Your Facebook homepage shows you what friends are doing, and I kept seeing a lot of my friends writing notes to Lisa saying things like ‘we’re praying for you,’ right around the time of the detainment,” Creamer said. “Nothing was being reported. I mean, two American women are in a North Korean jail and there was nothing. I was hearing more about Octomom.”
He saw membership rise from 2,500 to more than 15,000 after Lisa told CNN’s “Larry King Live” that seeing support for the women on Facebook had provided “the strangest comfort.”
“It’s nice to know that they are checking this, that they do know that we support them,” Moore said.
“I felt I had to do something,” Creamer added. “The group is a lot of amazing people who care so much and have helped in so many ways in getting things organized and done and are spreading the word.”
Through Facebook, he began helping to organize vigils, with five cities – Orlando, New York, Chicago, Portland, Ore., and Los Angeles – holding events on May 21, catching the attention of the national media.
“They started getting more recognition because it was more around the country and it was finally getting more coverage,” he said. “And that’s what we wanted. I bet most Americans don’t know the story because there’s the recession and daily life and what was being shown on the news didn’t have [Ling and Lee]. It was good to see that they started covering it more.”
Though Creamer has been in contact with the women’s families, Moore, like most, hasn’t tried to establish contact. “I know that they’re getting a lot of e-mails from people,” she said. “It’s better for me to be a silent supporter. They have enough to pay attention to.”
A growing movement
Creamer said the families’ decision to go on a media blitz on June 1 – three days before Laura and Euna were to go on trial in Pyongyang -- increased group membership and the greater public interest.
At a June 3 vigil in Los Angeles, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper was on-air live from the 1,000-strong Los Angeles vigil – finally, the media exposure that the Facebook movement had craved. Creamer says Cooper’s interest alone “got so many people involved” in the cause.
For now, Creamer – whose group is the largest Ling-Lee group on Facebook – faces another problem. Site restraints mean he can’t message more than 5,000 members at a time, so there’ll have to be new methods of communication established for the next round of vigils, which could be held in a few weeks.
And as the movement continues to grow, Lisa Ling might find greater comfort from Facebook. “She’s a real, true person,” Creamer says, “and she was surprised, honestly, about how many people care and got involved because there was very little media coverage.”
Moore and others will continue beating the drum. “The response has been, on my end, a little higher than what I anticipated,” she said, the day after Ling and Lee were sentenced. “I’m getting a lot of e-mails, especially today, like, ‘what do we do?’ The thing to do is to keep praying, to keep telling people. To keep letting the world know.”