Activism Vs Slacktivism: The materialisation of Online Action-A case of The Global Citizen´s Festival

A Joint post by the authors

One of the biggest features of continued ICT advancement in this present age is the shrinking of  time and space. Possibilities of reaching a wide audience that is spread out across the globe, even in real time, are on our fingertips. This possibility makes it easier to broadcast content, share views, organize and participate in online events. One such example is the Global Citizens´ Festival (GCF) hosted in New York City, a short while ago, between 17 and 23 September. The 5th year running GCF, continues to attract a huge following both online and offline. According to the organizers´ website, the event aims at advocating, “for freedom, for justice and for all “. As its name suggests, the Global Citizens´ Festival, has a global focus and has, since 2015, aligned its platform with the direction contained in the United Nations ´ 17 Sustainable Development Goals to end global poverty by 2030. GCF actions have included ten million emails, tweets, petition signatures and phone calls targeting world leaders to end extreme poverty by 2030.

Audience attending a concert during the Global Citizens´festival in New York City

The Global citizen´s Festival

As a group of bloggers we have been inspired to choose this example as an event that embodies the essence of the overarching themes that we have been exploring in our separate blog posts over these past few weeks.  This year, the week-long event coincided with the UN´s annual leaders´ meeting thus increasing the chances of “being heard” and influencing world leaders at this forum. Through conferences, star-studded music concerts, speeches and gatherings on the streets, in churches around town and on online platforms, the global citizens took action by raising money, signing petitions, lifting banners and protesting against global injustices that threaten freedom and justice and cause extreme poverty.

The event can be described as a great show of humanitarianism and concern for each other´s welfare, as global citizens. The Global Citizens´ Festival was broadcasted live across the world, through the Global Citizen Project´s Youtube channel. On GCF´s social media platforms including, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Google+,  participation was also huge. This demonstrates how the use of social media and online channels as tools for advocating for social change and soliciting public participation, support and solidarity, has become a common endeavour undertaken by most of organizations and groups of this era. According to Guo and Saxton (2014:58),

 social media sites provide a way to expand advocacy efforts by reaching new networks of community actors and by mobilizing those networks to take action.

Though serving as an effective platform to reach millions and organise event and joint actions, social media activism has been accused of promoting “slacktivism” , which Lane & Cin (2017:1) define as “low-cost online forms of social engagement that decrease subsequent offline participation […] arguing that: 

online social action satisfies youths’ moral and psychological needs for engagement, thereby excusing them from participating in traditional offline forms of engagement (e.g., donating and volunteering).

 

One of the consistent themes that we have discussed in our blogs, involves the possibilities that social media and other online platforms have created  for engaging, interacting and coordinating among users across the globe. These ICTs have been positively employed on many levels of our existence, like for example on rescue operations during crises, on activist campaigns, in political participation  as well as on gathering public international opinion relating to some specific issues. With increased usage of smartphones and access to internet in the global south, the digital divide in access to information and participation has consequently been reduced. Together with new technologies, come new debates and questions. How likely is it that a campaign carried out online, with audiences viewing, sharing and liking can translate and materialise into real tangible action and change on the ground. Kristofferson et al.  in Lane & Cin (2017:2) argue, 

There is evidence that some low-cost online actions (e.g., signing petitions or joining Facebook groups) are token displays of support that inhibit subsequent ‘meaningful action’.  

To contribute in this debate, the contributors of this blog site, will illustrate, through given evidence, how the Global Citizen´s Festival, that has mainly been covered online, has materialized into “real” offline results. We will do this through following GCF´s online platforms and documenting what offline impact the event has had through its online campaign. We look at donations, legislations, partnerships or projects, among others that may have materialised as a result of the Global Citizen´s Festival. By doing this, we argue that online participation on GCF goes beyond “slacktivism” and is instead a real example of ICT working for development outcomes and leading to real-life impact.

A few weeks since the GCF, the numbers are out now and the results of the event  are staggering. According to the Global Citizen Platform’s website, the Global Citizen Week has proven that unity is the way to fight poverty. Listed below, are some of the facts and figures gathered about the Impact of GCF.

  • While commanding an online presence, the Global Citizen Platform collaborated with partners to hold 30 events across New York City, turning the city into an arena of activism against poverty. (photo)
  • In the two months leading up to Global Citizen Week, Global Citizens took over 1.6 million actions urging leaders to tackle extreme poverty helping drive 29 commitments, 55 announcements and 13 calls to action, that totaled $3.2 billion, which are set to affect the lives of 221 million people.
https://twitter.com/GlblCtznImpact/status/911757840410382336
  • Australia Pledged $6 million at Global Citizen´s Event, to Improve Water and Sanitation Services
  • During the course of the week, seven heads of government and more than 30 foreign ministers, ambassadors, and the heads of the world’s most influential NGOs participated in the week of advocacy.
  • Since 2012, Global Citizens have taken 1.6 million actions towards achieving quality education for all children. These actions, combined with our high-level advocacy, and the efforts of partners, saw 57 new commitments and announcements in support of quality education. Together, these announcements and commitments are valued at $2.4 billion US dollars, and are set to affect the lives of 60 million children by 2030.
  • Accenture, Citi, Ernst & Young, and Procter and Gamble, who each committed to sourcing $100 million each through their supply chains from women-owned businesses.

It is safe to conclude that, this event is a prime example of how online social platforms, such as the Global Citizen platforms, can be used not just to generate awareness or discussions online, but also showing how connections can be made to activities taking place in the physical world as well that can raise money, and increase social engagement and awareness in both online and offline forums.

 

References and Photo Credits

 

  • Global Citizen Webpage – https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/
  • Guo, C., Saxton, G.D. 2014: Tweeting Social Change: How Social Media Are Changing Nonprofit Advocacy, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 43: 57-79.
  • *Lane, D.S. & Dal Cin, S. 2017: Sharing beyond Slacktivism: the effect of socially observable prosocial media sharing on subsequent offline helping behavior, Information, Communication & Society, forthcoming.