Most of us feel the inherent need to help and give back to society every once in a while. With social media and in general the increased accessibility of communication channels, the so-called “online activism” has become a fairly easy and quick process. A social message can easily go viral on the internet and thus the internet has become one big tool of change, a catalyst for people’s voices and opinions. Like-minded people and activists can connect via this tool and lobby for their interests. Thus raising funds and gathering political momentum can be facilitated. But if it were so easy, why do human rights breaches or environmental issues still prevail?
Digital activism is a tightrope walk.
Let’s be honest. Digital activism is a tightrope walk. This is simply due to the fact that the tools we can use may be as deceiving as to think that all we need to do to bring about change is click one button. The Web 2.0 has definitely accelerated the fairly calm wave of digital activism that had been brought to life in the 80s and perpetuated interconnectedness ever since. Today, entire campaigns are run online, are location-independent and have a vast audience with the power to globalise a campaign’s goals. Yet, this creates the fallacy that just because we have more possibilities to engage in activism people are galavanised to create social change. Indeed, digital activism can help shape public opinions, plan actions, transfer certain resources, share a call to action and take action digitally. However, we need to critically eye these various tools and be aware of their respective impact. Therefor, we will look at divergent platforms and tools and what to keep in mind.
- SOCIAL NETWORKS: They allow us to rapidly snowball information by sharing it, and garnering support. If we look at the Dakota Pipeline movement or the protests in Tunisia, Facebook can indeed be powerful to harvest political momentum. It is best to subscribe to pages that you intend to support in the long run. If you share certain pressing matters, make sure to forward the message correctly and as comprehensive as possible. Follow up on the developments of the events you share. If you only share a post about a certain topic once it will not draw a lot of attention and people will forget about it quickly.
- BLOGS: Political blogs are an intriguing form of citizen journalism and can serve as an effective mean to share your opinion with an audience. If you feel like you want to make your political voice heard and you need a platform to do this, blogging might be the right thing for you. However, make sure to always voice constructive points and to write within the realm of societal behavioural rules. Don’t insult or or create a smear campaign.
- ONLINE PETITIONS: There are many sites out there that serves as hubs for online activism. These are especially interesting as you can find topic that fit your personal concern, may it be the protection of the oceans or the ending of child marriage and more general human rights matters. Still, one needs to remain consistent by subscribing to these matters or engage in the same matter across various organisations. One signed petition cannot change the world.
- MICROBLOGGING: These sites also help to spread awareness of urgent political matters. Many events even receive their unique hashtag to bundle the voices of people. This creates a Multi-user conversation and again creates momentum. However, not all platforms remain free as many are subject to government censorship. Also, hashtags can only express so much solidarity and create political pressure. Ultimately it remains a digital entity that, when put into perspective, cannot create that much change alone. Thus, if you use a hashtag to jump on the activism train, make sure to follow through with the campaign.
All of these tools can indeed be very helpful when trying to bring about change. However, they ultimately experience their biggest success when used complementary to offline activism or as a teaser and informative platform for the real action taking offline. If it remains solely online, there is a risk that the so-called clicktivism prevails which leads to real issues being dealt with too passively. This basically means that clicking the like button, retweeting a trending hashtag on Twitter or sharing a post generally requires less effort and less forethought than by taking part in a demonstration on the streets for example.
In return this mean that people who actually do the bare minimum to engage in political issues praise themselves by believing that they have done their altruistic part for society.
In return this mean that people who actually do the bare minimum to engage in political issues praise themselves by believing that they have done their altruistic part for society. However, instead of realising that this serves their own conscious more then in helping anyone else really, they feel satisfied by their “pseudo activism”. Sadly, some people merely engage in clicktivism in order to be perceived as a “good and concerned citizen and activist” by others within their social network. It ultimately serves their reputation and not the vulnerable people who should be at the receiving end. For example, the digital campaign in support of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) research ,featuring the so-called “Ice Bucket Challenge”, prompted participants to upload a video of them throwing a bucket of ice water over their head and then to donate towards the research. While the campaign did raise a lot of money indeed, many people who took part to “join the trend” did not donate at all, let alone inform themselves about the aspects of this serious disease.
So which conclusions can you draw from this article? Firstly, that digital activism does not immediately change the world and only harbours a vast potential when combined with actually taking it to the streets. Secondly, digital activism can be an amazing tool to raise awareness, organising a movement, and gathering people and voices in real time. Thirdly, digital activism is often abused as a trend in order to push people’s own reputation. Their agenda remains intransparent until transcribed into real life action. Next, online activism can fail to convey its actual message by being transformed into a viral video or trend, lacking vital information that surrounds the topic. Lastly, online activism will only be successful if people meet it with the necessary seriousness and consistency, meaning that a campaign needs to be supported longterm. After all, if you ask people what has been achieved by the ALS campaign 3 years after its initiation, most people will fail to give you an answer….
Thank you for reading this article. Here, we have listed some websites where you can engage in petitions and online activism: