You Are What You Share – Yes or No to Online Activism?

“Ideas take life when they are shared.” -Charles W. Leadbeater, 2009

If we look at the Oxford English Dictionary we can see the word “activism” being defined as “The policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change.” What happens then if we add the use of social media in these campaigns? The Oxford English Dictionary brings the term “clicktivism” as the “Actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement, for example signing an online petition or joining a campaign group on social media.”

We can see a great difference in the terms “vigorous campaigning” versus the idea of “requiring little time or involvement” to achieve political or social change. Does this mean that online activism is incapable of achieving the same things that traditional offline activism is? Or may it now become an essential part of activism, blurring their distinction?

Thanks to the information that is shared in social networks, a lot of conflicts and causes get a diffusion that they would not otherwise get. Also, having more people knowing about a cause, coming into contact with it, and acquiring more information about it could eventually end up in participating in a “physical” event such as a demonstration. If we believe that part of social activism and activities to generate change have to do with the creation of awareness and with the distribution of information and collective identification of a problem, how important is it to be politically active on social networks?

Charles Leadbeater, the British author of the book We Think: The Power of Mass Creativity, defends online activism with the idea that the Internet allows people to “Not just to publish but to share and connect, to collaborate and when the conditions are right, to create, together, at scale.” He supports the idea of the web as a mass innovation and creativity tool; a catalyst for democracy, freedom, and equality “…by giving more people a voice and the ability to organize themselves, by giving the opportunity to be creative, and by allowing knowledge to be set free.” Another defender of clicktivism is Gareth Moore, ONE’s US digital director, who states that “online advocacy can indeed affect real-world decisions.” He endorses the combination of both online and offline mobilization for an effective real political or social change by saying “A petition alone — as with any action by itself — cannot sustain a campaign or is unlikely to create change. But coupled with offline actions, media and grassroots activism, a petition can bring new voices into a campaign and help push direct action.”.

If we believe that part of social activism and activities to generate change have to do with the creation of awareness and with the distribution of information and collective identification of a problem, how important is it to be politically active on social networks?

But we know that not all that glitters is gold. Detractors of the positive aspects of online activism have added a new term to address its negative aspects known as “slacktivism.” This word aims to bring the understanding that with a single click people can’t make significant changes, that could be dangerous for people to think that just clicking is enough to solve a problem. Although the Internet has helped us to become more aware of the problems that occur in many different parts of the world, it also helps us choose which types of events we want to “follow” and which ones we one to “unfollow,” taking the risk of polarizing the frames of conflicts. Slacktivism also appeals to the necessity of addressing the development of and increasing the number of discussions around ideas like public and social education in order to generate a decisive change.

Charles Leadbeater addressed some dilemmas that online activism shows. For example, he mentions the lack of privacy, abuses, and invasions as a result from that, the possibility of participation as just a creator of “noise,” and the awareness that “…collaboration is sustained and reliable only under conditions which allow for self-organization”. We have seen struggles between those who want to share certain information (like music, films, or ideas) and those who want to dominate these actions (like Microsoft’s battle with open source platforms).

What we need more of now is old-fashioned organization and movement building that involves people at the grass-roots level in real face-to-face political activity” says to The Huffington Post Bruce Hartford, a member of the organization Civil Rights Movement Veterans. He discusses the idea of “new” organizations that provide online and offline services on behalf of the citizens instead of them being empowered to take action on their own. Hartford exemplifies it as “[So] much easier to collect donations online and deduct dues from paychecks to hire a small staff that does the work on behalf of the donors. It’s easier, but it’s not sufficient.”

We have seen struggles between those who want to share certain information (like music, films, or ideas) and those who want to dominate these actions (like Microsoft’s battle with open source platforms).

Now that we have seen both advantages and disadvantages of online activism, what do we do? What is best? What is worse? It’s all up to us. Being aware of the possible risks of clicktivism could help us to minimize them and look for real effective ways in which we can use the Internet and social media to raise issues, create dialogue around them, and pursue mobilizations for creative responses that can include both online and offline action.

Highlighting the idea of being creative, let’s reflect on what John Paul Lederach, professor of International Peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame, said in his book The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace:

If the moral imagination lies within us as a dormant seed of potential… Tapping the creative side, touching intuition, knowing things kinesthetically, visually, metaphorically, and artistically requires avenues of exploration in the educational process that tap whole other parts of human “being” and “knowing”… There is a growing sense that if we are to invoke the moral imagination, we must incite and excite the artist within us.

 

 

REFERENCES

Activism. (n.d.). In English Oxford Dictionary online. Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/english

Clicktivism. (n.d.). In English Oxford Dictionary online. Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/clicktivism

Hartford, B. (January 4, 3017). The limits of “Clicktivism”. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bruce-hartford/the-limits-of-clicktivism_b_13956416.html

Leadbeater, C. (2009). We Think: The Power of Mass Creativity. Great Britain: Profile Books.

Lederach, J. P. (2005). The moral imagination: The art and soul of building peace. Oxford University Press.

Moore, G. (2012). When clicking counts: In defense of slacktivism and clicktivism. One: join the Fight Against Extreme Poverty. Retrieved from https://www.one.org/us/2012/05/03/when-clicking-counts-in-defense-of-slacktivism-and-clicktivism/

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