In the last post, the important point was made that we should be realistic when discussing the effectiveness of new media: not getting caught up in the hyperbole of its capacity but also acknowledging the advances and improvements it has brought to campaigns. For example, this blog has shown how journalists are using social networking platforms to fight the current censorship, repression and upheaval in Ethiopia. Whereas, it has also been acknowledged that forms of old media are still very much relevant for pushing social change.
Taking this discussion onwards, I am going to look at one of the main issues offered as an inherent weakness of new media activism; namely clicktivism (Morozov 2013).
This refers to individuals becoming superficially interested in a cause online but failing to transfer this interest into material action. Signing online petitions, buying a MPH wristband for example or other light touch involvement can feel like activism but this form of lifestyle agency or ‘dispositional irony’ as Chouliarki (2015) would deem it, minimizes the effective engagement with an issue and does not help achieve the goals. The protests in Belarus through 2006 against Lukashenko showed the disparity between a vocal online active movement and the failure to translate this into effective action. More generally it is attested that clicktivism inflates a social movement with greater numbers, online presence and information but this activism does not travel offline to foster change.
There are many other contemporary examples that would fall under this category where a social movement has had a lot of followers and apparent support yet ultimately failed to achieve their goals . But there are aspects of low-key, minimal engagement that can be argued as productive. Barbera, Wang, Bonneau, Jost, Nagler, Tucker et al(2015) state that peripheral participants in social activism are critical in increasing the reach of the protest message and generating online content. The aggregate sum contribution by peripheral members it is argued, is of comparable magnitude to that of the minority core members at the heart of the movement.
They argue that the power lies in their numbers: quantity not quality that matters. Critical mass theories suggest there is a critical number, a breaking point when the number of participants reaches this stage the movement moves to a position of self-sustaining activity. By swelling, promoting and disseminating a movement’s agenda, the periphery can add to this process.
The data presented in the case studies Barbera et al (2015) looked at suggest that there is fertile ground for future analyses on core-periphery relationships through online activism.
Moreover, looking beyond contemporary online activism, Clay Shirky stresses the importance of online participation adding to the public sphere. As more people get access to information and are able to relay and discuss the information, there will be greater capacity for engagement leading to social change. To mark the efficacy of online activism only at present misses the opportunity that it holds looking forward. Parmelee and Birchard’s 2012 work on the ‘Twitter Revolution’ would state that there is already a case to be made for the power of ICTs affecting the current political sphere. It is clear that despite the obvious problems with light-touch activism, we cannot be truly dismissive of the potential that peripheral online activism holds moving forward
Armchair activism is brought up through this TED talk on environmental activism. The issue of TED talks is itself is intriguing. For an interesting analysis on whether they are indeed an effective platform for promoting change, check out Denskus, T., Esser, D. 2015