Is "Clicktivism" Ruining Activism?

by: Heather on 08/20/2010
Posted in: Activism

In The Guardian this week (via Post Carbon Institute) Micah White raises an interesting and alarming question - by reducing activism to online petitions, is "clicktivism" undermining more conventional activist activities? Comparing clicktivists to sophisticated marketers, White suggests that through clicktivism, political engagement becomes devoid of substance.

In promoting the illusion that surfing the web can change the world, clicktivism is to activism as McDonalds is to a slow-cooked meal. It may look like food, but the life-giving nutrients are long gone.

I have long shared White's concerns. While it's easy to be excited when you hear that millions of people have raised their (virtual) voices in support of the oceans or to fight climate change, I worry that this type of feel-good armchair activism comes to be seen as a substitute for actually taking it to the streets. If an issue doesn't concern you enough to get you out of your comfortable chair, then perhaps it's time to re-examine your level of commitment.

White is arguing against what he calls "the marketisation of social change". I think that digital activism is only one small facet of this important issue. Under the same umbrella we find companies like Wal-Mart rebranding themselves as a model of corporate sustainability, even as they continue to steamroll local economies and import billions of dollars worth of goods from Chinese factories. We find "environmentally-friendly" SUV's, "organic" personal care products laden with toxic chemicals, and other oxymorons. We find a wave of consumers convinced that they can buy themselves out of our environmental crisis by "shopping green", having apparently missed the memo that overconsumption is what's threatening the planet.

Let's hear it for White's call for a new breed of activist - one who will deliver a "passionate, ideological and total critique of consumer society". In the meantime however, I am grappling with the deep irony that I originally found, and shared, his commentary on digital activism on, you guessed it, Facebook.

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