There is a common belief that the youths of today are disengaged from traditional politics. Is this true, or are we perhaps engaging with politics in un-conventional ways that reflect the changes in society? Being known as the ‘internet generation’, social media is becoming more and more influential in the lives of young people. But is this detrimental to activism or does it help provide more awareness of societal issues?
As technology evolves, we are able to connect and unite through a broader range of mediums. As one of the many people drawn into the now infamous internet campaign Kony 2012, I have experienced first hand the ability of todays youth to engage in current affairs. Kony 2012 is an example of the ways in which groups and organisations “use social media to coordinate action across a more dispersed network” (Jenkins, 2012, p.11). The methods that social media employ in order to gain increased circulation and audience engagement could not be done through any other medium.
On the other hand, there is the argument that social media, or more specifically ‘clicktivism’ is detrimental to ‘real’ activism. The term ‘clicktivism’ refers to the people who participate in online campaigns without actually supporting an issue. In recent years, it appears that young people think that 1 like = 1 prayer and that liking a photo can cure cancer or save a third world country from poverty. Jenkins states that, “the online community needs to be fully aware of the critical thinking and media skills needed to defend their causes” (Jenkins, 2012, p.10). In order to gain respect in the activist community, online organisations need to ensure that their followers are aware of the cause that they supporting and also to go further than just signing an online petition or changing their profile picture.
Being an ‘internet slacktivist‘, I often find myself sharing videos in support of gay marriage, liking photos against bullying or retweeting messages about social justice campaigns. This leads me to the question of whether clicktivism helps or hurts ‘real’ activism. Henrik Christensen argues that “it is not possible to determine a consistent impact of internet campaigns on real-life decisions, there is no evidence of the substitution thesis. If anything, the internet has a positive impact on offline mobilisation”. The internet holds a great deal of power in order to mobilise and spread information. Organisations such as Get Up and MoveOn.org, that are primarily coordinated through the internet, educate people about issues such as social justice, economic fairness and environmental sustainability. These organisations, although they do encourage clicktivism, are extremely influential in the activist community. I believe that clicktivism helps ‘real’ activism as it provides key information about current affairs at the click of a mouse.
Clicktivism is a consumerist concept as it has diluted activism to appeal to mass audiences. The concept resulting is that social change is marketed like a brand name, attempting to appeal to the widest possible audience rather than those few individuals who attempt to stand behind a cause. In this sense, while it has watered down serious activism, clicktivism has allowed societal issues to become more embedded in the fabric of our everyday lives, raising awareness and pushing for social change – which can never be a bad thing.