To boycott or not to boycott, that is the question.

“All powerful social movement tactics have always been premised on a strategic analysis of what the media environment affords. Like it or not, the era of broadcast television has ended, just as surely as the era of broadsheets and pamphlets did. The digital era supports different tactics”.[1]

I’m kicking off the #RESIST venture into blogging by jumping straight into the Cheetos-dusted murky depths of current events, also known as U.S. president Donald Trump. There has been a barrage of ‘alternative facts’ and an outright dismissal of the rule of law, and I’m just talking about in the last few days. All of which has been duly documented on Twitter of course:

Now, as much as I’d like to offer up my thoughts on what Trump personifies *time to impeach perhaps*  I’m choosing to instead focus my post on the already existing smartphone application Boycott Trump. Described as “the first app of its kind, allowing users to hit Trump where it hurts most – his wallet” it is available on both App store and Google Play. At the time of writing Boycott Trump has more than 125,000 users.

A quick look at the app reveals its main objective to be listing companies and brands that are, or have been, linked to Donald Trump during the 2016 election and after his inauguration. Some have stronger ties to him personally than others, and his daughter Ivanka seemingly ‘takes one for the team’ more than once.

It is up to the user if and when to boycott. Fittingly, the makers of the app, the largest grassroots anti-Trump organisation in the United States, have a pledge available on their website for exactly that purpose. The app doesn’t stand alone in this undertaking, but joins the ranks of the #GrabYourWallet movement that encourages a similar boycott. While you may be forgiven for wondering how a boycott of Celebrity Apprentice-sponsors directly impacts Trump as president of the ‘free world’, I find the app intriguing, but perhaps for other reasons.

When comparing and linking Boycott Trump to the aspects of social media activism most often referred to as ‘slacktivism’, it is important to note that it may actually not be that slack a form of activism. There is evidence suggesting that it may be very critical to activism when approaching such actions as raising awareness of social justice protests, and further that the most slacktivist “peripheral users in online protest networks may be as important in expanding the reach of messages as the highly committed minority at the core.”.[2] Notably slacktivism went quite rampant only recently, with the Standing Rock protest check-ins on Facebook bringing “a ton of attention to the Indigenous people, environmentalists, climate change advocates, supporters and other activists who have been camped out in an effort to protect the tribal water and land.” However, unlike merely checking in on social media

Boycott Trump provides an easy way to do just this -actively put your money where your mouth is. To individuals and consumers digital media can and perhaps ought to be used “to compose our own cultural identities and affiliations in creative new ways” [3] and help reinforce the ones that we actually value, regardless of what is being imposed upon us by other powers in society.

In extending our gaze  to include the  ‘field’ in which smartphone apps exist; digital activism and information and communication technologies (ICT), you don’t have to look any further than to this recent mashable post to see how various apps bring activism straight to your phone. They may also help you share on social media, locate your friends, or notify friends and family in the case of your arrest at social justice protests. Boycott Trump however serves to inform users of various company ties, so that they may make an informed choice on how to spend their money.

Within fields such as the social sciences, and also social change, much emphasis is placed on both abilities to make a choice, and on the knowledge provided on how to do so in an informed way.[5] The capability approach by Amartya Sen, for instance, argues that social change “is about the freedom of choice in the personal, the social, the economic and the political sphere”[4] and while an app like Boycott Trump might not come to save the day in its entirety, it does offer both the sense and practical elements of choice to its users. Admittedly not everyone is able to freely choose which products to buy and where –the world is really not exactly fair when it comes to divvying up socioeconomic privilege. Yet, there is some degree of freedom for a lot of people, and apps like Boycott Trump can provide a handy digital pocketed way of exercising that freedom as one form of digital activist movement.

Coincidentally, I read in the news that Ivanka Trump’s clothing line just got pulled from Nordstrom, because no one was buying it..

 

[1] Karpf, D. (2017). Analytic Activism: Digital Listening and the New Political Strategy. : Oxford University Press, published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2016, Retrieved  Feb 1st 2017, from http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190266127.001.0001/acprof-9780190266127. p.2

[2] Barberá P, Wang N, Bonneau R, Jost JT, Nagler J, et al. The Critical Periphery in the Growth of Social Protests. PLOS ONE 10(11): e0143611. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0143611, 2015. p.9

[3] Howard, P. N. Castells and the Media. [electronic resource] : Theory and Media. Hoboken : Wiley, 2013. p.72

[4] Kleine, D. (2010). ICT4WHAT?—Using the choice framework to operationalise the capability approach to development. Journal Of International Development, 22(5), 22(5), pp.674-692, 2010. doi:10.1002/jid.1719, pp.674-677

4 Comments

  1. Fernanda

    An inspiring post in many ways, and actually my comment is more an invitation to a deeper reflection about the importance of slacktivism. I depart from Appadurai´s argument that the “human capacity to aspire in order to grow has to be put into practice” (Stade, 2016: 203 discussing Appadurai 2004&2013) because hope is like a muscle – it risks atrophy if not in motion. Following this analogy, I see the app as an informed resistance that makes the muscle (hope) stronger, which in turn could ´damage´ hegemonies and injustices in more effective manners than check-ins on Facebook or whatever. However, when thinking about Bauman´s concept of ´liquid modernity´ (2000), it might be so that what we see as sort of empty activism is actually a strong (yet fluid) citizen dialogue with the great awareness about global problems we have been experiencing thanks to advances on ICT. In this sense, I like to think about slacktivism beyond its function as “critical periphery” reverberating messages and helping raise awareness, but also as “putting your voice where your heart is” – and, by doing so, helping to keep the muscle strong as well. As Shirky (2011) argues, “social media´s real potential lies in supporting civil society and the public sphere – which will produce change over years and decades, not weeks or months”. So it might be so that slacktivism is way more political relevant than we, with our still limited and immediate lenses, can see now. Of course we could discuss for hours to what extent some kinds of sharing do more harm than good by simplifying complexities or reinforcing global power relations. Not to mention the digital divide and the myth of internet freedom… But I still believe that, at end of the day, even the worst slacktivism has the (immediate) power to, at least, keep a couple of us alert and strong – maybe even better prepared – for other kinds of ´core´ engagements, building paths to real social transformation in the long term.

    1. Emma

      The discussion on the importance (and perhaps also at times the lack of) slacktivism is indeed very relevant one, and personally it is one I also find a very interesting 🙂 The comment on hope by Ronald, whilst very applicable can also be flipped back onto itself when viewing slacktivism though, can it not? Does it really instill more hope to feel one “is doing something” when in some cases that something may in fact be too small to ‘truly’ question anything…and further is critiquing something to a small -often also particularly like minded- audience the same as questioning it on a grander scale, or is it part of a societal (social media) norm itself, rather than an effective part of any norm-critique?

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