Social networking sites, micro-blogging services, content-sharing sites, blogs (like this one!), web pages, wikipedia, twitter and much more, have introduced the opportunity for wide-scale, online social participation with the opportunity to send out information and updates on a national and international scale. Online participation/activism has however received a lot of criticism of being a lazy way of getting involved in different causes even referring it to ‘slacktivism’. The definition on slacktivism on Wikipedia reads: “The word is usually considered a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction. The acts tend to require minimal personal effort from the slacktivist”. There is also a worry that online activities will detract from real life activism.
Online activism – we need more research
And we don’t really know what effects online participation can actually have. According to us, there is not enough research on this matter. Also, research is not keeping up with the pace that activism is unfolding online.
“Where traditional activism begins and online activities start?”
There are many new tools, way to share information, activities online that are bordering traditional public, sphere activities. These days, we don’t really know where traditional activism begins, and online activities start. They are intermeshed – intertwined. This reflects the real world, since there is no clear line between the two spheres. We live in a complex world – and we participate online as well as offline. And we don’t really know what activities can have the greatest impact – which is why online activism shouldn’t lose importance or be attacked – this might actually prove to be just as effective as traditional activities. But as mentioned more research on this is needed.
Working together to obtain a powerful movement
We believe it is important to draw from the strengths of both offline and online activism and combine them to create a new sphere where maximal impacts in order to create a specific social and political change are obtained. How to create this must be further analyzed, but we see many organizations that are moving towards utilizing both tools/means in a new creative way that in the end will turn into action and change in policies, laws and structures. For instance, Amnesty still has the activity groups that meet off-line, but instead of sending letters they send electronic letters and have interactive communities online and they are able to gather Amnesty activists around one cause in a matter of days, or even hours, thanks to the power of the internet.
“Internet has provided activists with new opportunities to build networks, across borders, and exchange alternative information or distribute information in a more cost-efficient way.”
The same goes for many other organizations with transnational width and activities. The wide accessibility of different online activities, which have a wide range of levels in engagement and commitments, makes online activism easy for people to get involved in. In short, Internet has provided activists with new opportunities to build networks, across borders, and exchange alternative information or distribute information in a more cost-efficient way. It also provided activists and civil society organizations more control over the content of their message and the tools to independently inform citizens and sympathizers worldwide.
“We are still social animals, and we don’t believe this will end.”
To sum up, we would argue that online activism can in fact strengthen offline, public sphere activism. By its cost-effective advantage and fast-paced information dispersion that facilitates awareness of issues could in fact translate into further action for some people, who might otherwise have remained ignorant and inactive. Successful actions, we believe, move beyond the limits of internet, which is fragmentation and availability, and diversifies their media strategies to include more traditional forms of media such as print, TV, or radio. And face-to-face meetings will be as important in the future as it has always been, we are still social animals, and we don’t believe this will end.
“We are all slacktivists – and proud of it!”
Examples of slacktivist activities are those lists on ‘End violence against women’ you sign on Facebook, or the twitter messages you disperse on a particular day to celebrate or create attention towards something, or the publication you share on your blog on how we have now reached 7 billion people and what implications this might have (on 31 October 2011 this will be the case- UNFPA). However, we can’t all work in the development aid sector – the UN, FAO and the World Bank are workplaces very few people reach. Many of us know that but we still want to direct attention to a particular cause, or feel like we are involved. We are all slacktivists – and proud of it. The alternative would be not to get involved and ignore important messages about the state of the world. Would that be better?