Activism, or just slacktivism?

Speaking about online or digital activism, it feels one always have to put in a disclaimer, stating something like: “Digital activism is often referred to as slacktivism, clicktivism or feel-good activism”. In a society where a big part of life is spent in front of a screen, is digital activism still the lazy way of protesting? Is AFK movements more influential than digital activism, and if so- why?

The word slacktivism has been described in both negative and positive terms. Some have been arguing online activism is a form of accessible “bottom-up” activism, while critics have stated it’s a form of feel good-activism with zero political or social impact. Although, this criticism separates the online and offline worlds, and makes a distinction between digital and physical efforts. Online activities are from this point of view considered to be lazier and more ineffective than offline tackling of social issues. Slacktivism becomes tied to the web.

Media can be a useful tool in activism, not only online. “Mediated Mobilizationing” can be used to bring people to “the streets”,[1] it can be used tactically focusing on what is doable right now, as an available activist action from the everyday media user. This way of using media for activism is not about winning – instead, the goal is not losing. Basically, it’s not about starting a revolution, but to resist.[2]

“A substantial body of critical critique identifies equally superficial, “feel-good” engagement with social problems through non-digital media. For example, kinesiology and health studies scholar Samantha King critiques “pink ribbon” breast cancer campaigns for capitalizing on the increasing “tendency to deploy consumption as a major avenue of political participation […] a trend toward “commodity activism”[3]

Even though digital or media activism is not functioning as commodity activism per se, it “[…] shares a reliance on decorative markers of participation”[4].

One could argue that it all comes down to a discussion on whether you choose to look at online practices from a technological deterministic, or social shaping of technology- point of view. Is (I)RL only considering the offline- world? In that case, when will the online- world be considered to be as real? To quote Mary Maxfield: “Are activists who live-tweet remarks from a rally they attend working online or off?”

“As the communications landscape gets denser, more complex, and more participatory, the networked population is gaining greater access to information, more opportunities to engage in public speech, and an enhanced ability to undertake collective action. In the political arena […]  these increased freedoms can help loosely coordinated publics demand change.[5]
Clay Shirky

Lazy or not, continuing reading our posts, consider both sides of media activism, and its ability to create social change.

 

 

References

[1] Lievrouw, Leah. A. 2011, “Alternative and Activist New Media”. Polity Press.

[2] Cubitt, Sean (2006). Tactical media. In K. Sarikakis, & D. K. Thussu, Daya (Eds.), The ideologies of the Internet (pp. 35-46). Hampton Press.

[3] Mary Maxfield (2016) History retweeting itself: imperial feminist appropriations of “Bring Back Our Girls”, Feminist Media Studies, 16:5, 886-900, DOI: 10.1080/14680777.2015.1116018. (http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14680777.2015.1116018)

[4] Mary Maxfield (2016) History retweeting itself: imperial feminist appropriations of “Bring Back Our Girls”, Feminist Media Studies, 16:5, 886-900, DOI: 10.1080/14680777.2015.1116018. (http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14680777.2015.1116018)

[5] Shirkey, Clay. “The Political Power of Social Media: Technology, the Public Sphere, and Political Change”. Foreign Affairs 90.1 (Jan/Feb 2011): 28-I.

 

3 Comments

  1. Ahling

    Interesting post, I like the idea of questioning the blurred boundaries between IRL and the online world. Regarding the potential of online activism, I tend to agree more with the quoted scholar Shirkey´s view that the effects of activism on social media should be looked at a longer term perspective, such as in matters of years instead of weeks (Shirkey, 2011:30). Even though online activism is often accused of just being “slacktivism” the deeds provide space for discussion and encourage debate in civil society and maybe even the public sphere. The effects of shared awareness of development issues/injustice/humanitarian crises should not be underestimated in the long run.

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