Tag Archives: social media

Clicktivism – The future of political action?

“Clicktivism” – really? Is that a thing now?

Well, apparently it is, and if you haven’t heard about it, chances are, you probably haven’t done it. Maybe you’re ignorant, maybe you’re simply too cynical, or you don’t know the internet (in which case you probably wouldn’t be reading this). Except for the ignorance part, these reasons are perfectly excusable in a society in which political action often seems futile or even counter-productive.

“Clicktivism”, on the other hand, sounds genius: all you have to do is sit in front of your computer, which many of us do anyway, and share some Youtube videos, “like” some Facebook pages and type your name under pre-written letters, petitions, flyers – voilà – you’ve just made the world a better place!

The cynic in me feels compelled to think: Surely things can’t be this easy! They never are.

But why not? Politics doesn’t always have to be difficult. The most basic political action in our democracies is as easy as putting a little cross next to a name. The process of voting is so simple, yet it is politics. In fact, I would even go so far as to state that everything you do is political anyway: having a debate with your mum is political, deciding to have one child instead of two is political, sharing your thoughts online is a political act (albeit a sometimes dangerous one).

clicktivism - so easy, a sleepy cat can do it. via imgfave.com

The question is whether or not these actions are followed by the desired results. I can rant all day about politics on social media; that in and of itself does not bring forth systemic change. Neither does voting. But that doesn’t mean it can’t make a difference.

“Clicktivism” can make a difference. It works, that is, when applied to the right goals. Look at the power of feminist uses of social media, look at the temporary prevention of ACTA. ACTA is an interesting case, because even though it did require offline activism to be brought to a temporary halt; the German government backed down even before the actual physical protests took place. “Clicktivism” can also raise awareness of issues that would otherwise go unnoticed, for example the anti-LGBT laws in Russia and Uganda.

Speaking of Uganda: make no mistake. Simply “raising awareness” can also go wrong and lead to rather misguided forms of activism, as illustrated by the recent KONY 2012 phenomenon. A bunch of young, well-connected guys with a (questionable) charity had the idea to spread the word about an injustice, and through the use of social media they created a world-wide (well, Western-wide) outcry about a man whose name most people had never heard of before. All of a sudden, teens and students who had never protested before and barely read the news, demanded governmental, even military, action to hunt this man down, a man who surely deserves to be punished, but why turn him into a 2012 Hitler?

The power of “clicktivism”? Hardly. The power of misinformation is more like it. The motivations and means of this political activist stunt have been questioned, and justifiably so; the attention brought to this case has been analyzed as potentially doing more damage than good (for a collection of criticisms directed at Invisible Children, the charity responsible for KONY 2012, see here). All the while people’s Facebook walls are plastered with a video and badges about a conflict they’ve had no other access to than this biased and ill-informing “campaign” (Campaign for what, one might ask. Ironically, the slogan of the video, website and Facebook page, even merchandise, is “KONY 2012”, not “Stop KONY”.)

idealized protest: kony 2012 via communicopia.com

actual protest: occupy wall street 2012 by cliff weathers via nyaltnews.com

But really, who can blame them? Everyone would like to do something good, and contribute at least their small part to make this world a tiny bit more just. Who has time to do in-depth research whenever a petition pops up online and the cause seems important?  Who makes the effort to drag their ass to a protest, to an activist organisation? Who wants to sit around freezing in a tent all day and be sprayed with pepper spray?

I agree with Angry Black Lady on this one: there are people who do just that and people who don’t, and those who don’t can at least do something by supporting those who are doing all the work for them, ideally including proper research. I don’t want to let anyone off the hook. People in the position to do so, have a responsibility to educate themselves. I will always support organizations and individuals who stimulate rather than discourage or detract from these ambitions, even if that means simplifying the message somewhat, but at some point the strategy has to go beyond the “Starbucks charity logic“.

After all, those who do engage in offline activism have always been going the extra mile and will continue to do so. They will write manifestos at night, they will gather in smelly classrooms to organize, they will risk their reputation, their commodities, their security and even their health to continue the fight. The option of signing petitions online is not going to change that. The so-called “Twitter revolution” in Tunisia was still fought in the streets.

Notes on Facebook

By now everyone should be aware of Facebook’s recent stunt: introducing Timeline, which chronicles the users’ entire Facebook past on their profiles, all the way back to their actual births. Now it will be made obligatory.

Needless to say, I find the whole idea utterly ridiculous, especially  when you look at the information Timeline users are encouraged to share: purchases they’ve made (great for companies), surgeries and illnesses they’ve had (WHY on earth would anyone want to share or know this?), loved ones they’ve lost (I wonder, can you link to their profiles? Is this the next step: a virtual cemetery for all the profiles abandoned by the dead?)…

But what I find also incredibly annoying are all the comments by clearly conservative and clueless people wondering: “Well, why are you on Facebook in the first place? No one’s forcing you!”

Of course, I am compelled to use Facebook! Sure, no one is holding a gun to my head, but have you ever heard of society? When you are a young, tech-savvy (well, I try) and well-connencted person, not having Facebook is simply not an option anymore, at least not a smart one. And I am not talking about the overreaching self-promotion of some individuals, the sometimes excessive networking and oversharing; I am talking about staying in touch, staying informed and staying connected.

1. Staying in touch: If you’ve lived in one place all your life and you have a working phone, then no, you may not necessarily need Facebook. But if you’ve travelled a lot and lived in other places (or your closest friends have), then most likely you will know a considerable amount of people you love and care about, who don’t live anywhere near you, maybe not even in the same time zone. Facebook is a way of keeping track of what is happening in your friends’ and family’s lives, when it becomes impossible to send out twenty e-mails every week. Sometimes all it takes is seeing a picture, liking a status update or sending a link to know that there are people out there who care and think about you, even when you’re not physically present. One may find that superficial; but this kind of superficiality can feel really damn good sometimes.

2. Staying informed: Well, you could read the news and use Twitter, and you probably wouldn’t miss out on much. But you may want to inform yourself not just through Facebook, but about Facebook. Just because you don’t like it, doesn’t change the fact that millions of people worldwide are using it, and everything that Facebook does will affect these millions of people. So don’t be ignorant; after all, this is a world-wide phenomenon that continues to shape the world: your world as well…

3. Staying connected: Networking is my worst nightmare, probably because I suck at it. But when you’re a twenty-something looking for a job, and you have a degree in humanities, you better get into it. Because knowledge in social networking is almost a requirement these days, especially when it comes to jobs in cultural and media institutions. Plus, when you have a blog, like this one, and you actually want people to read it, Facebook is indispensible. Sending everyone e-mail updates would take too much time, and it would drive everyone crazy, who actually doesn’t care about what I write (shocking, I know). So unless you have a good alternative I need to hear about, stop patronizing Facebook users!

Just to be sure, none of this makes me a huge fan of Facebook; in fact, I find it highly problematic. And if Google+ and Diaspora finally took off, I would leave the book in a heartbeat. But in the meantime I cannot do without this tool and if I don’t like the new changes, I get to complain about them as much as I want to!