by Eldora Aoun
I know what you’re thinking when you read the title of this article. You’re thinking, “online activism is slacktivism at its finest . . . People participate online just to pat themselves on the back and feel good about doing their part for humanity . . . However, at the end of the day, that Facebook like or that Twitter retweet doesn’t actually change anything . . .”.
Well, I’m going to challenge you on those notions. The 700 words will implore you to rethink your criticism of cyber activism, because cyber activism is a site of engagement that can provoke real change in societies.
My first argument,
As noted by Christensen (2011) online activism is more likely to engage the politically inactive user, than to disengage the politically active. Though it is certainly easier to join a Facebook group or make an online donation than it is to participate in a rally, the former does not impede the latter. The person who is a genuine, self-proclaimed activist, will be engaged both online and offline. And if we are being honest, the politically inactive and disengaged wouldn’t participate in a rally to begin with. Liking a Facebook movement or re-tweeting a political commentary are actions that won’t make activists less inclined to be active elsewhere. However, it does provide a low and easy standard of participation that makes the politically inactive take a first step into more involved levels of engagement.
My second argument,
The Internet is a digital universe connecting people all across the world into one collective cyberspace. It enables connectivity amongst billions of users within seconds. Social media has revolutionized the way we communicate on a global scale.
Before this, activism was formed as regional or national movements supported by word of mouth and face-to-face initiatives. Social media has made it possible for movements to spread across borders and onto international stages. Previously, gaining support from across the world was a nearly impossible feat. Now, raising global awareness, international recruitment, and gaining public opinion has become faster and easier and occurs on a greater scale.
Having public opinion on one’s side is crucial in order to realize social change, especially on a political level. What better way to be able to have a conversation with the public and have your side of the story heard than on a virtual platform? Mainstream media often reflects the dominant vies and opinions of society’s elites. Therefore, if you represent a marginalized viewpoint and want it to be heard, the best place to go for complete freedom of expression is the Internet. In online spaces, grassroots social movements can have their voices heard in conversations and begin to shift and gain public opinion.
Here’s my proof,
The “We Are All Khaled Said” movement is my first example. In Egypt, a young man named Khaled Said got brutally beaten to death by police officers. One person took to Facebook and created the aforementioned group to support the movement and create a virtual community around it, one that had grown to over 200,000 members.
The group provides a space for users to come together and build strength surrounding the notions of political activism. This way, in the event of an incident occurring that may trigger a movement, such as the Tunisian Revolution, the group can be mobilized—moving online followers into the streets for protest.
Example number two is how during the 2010-2012 Arab Spring social media was on eof the key factors in exercising freedom of speech, fostering civic engagement and coordinating rallies. Networks formed online were crucial in organizing a core group of activists to activists to simultaneous protests against dictatorship and oppression (Brown et al., 2012; Preston, 2011)
Also, demonstrators on location were able to provide instant updates of the events taking place to national and international audiences. The importance of social media was in communicating to the rest of the world what was happening on the ground during the revolution. Without the Internet, the Arab Spring arguably would have taken a very different meaning in the eyes of Western society (Schroeder et al., 2012).
My third example, remember Kony 2012? In case you were living under a rock in 2012; film maker Jason Russell released a 30-minute short film as a call-to action to make War Lord Joseph Kony (in)famous, to imprison him and end the forced drafting of children into his army.
For nearly 27 years, Joseph Kony kidnapped children in Uganda and forced them into his army of child soldiers.
Before the 2012 campaign, Joseph Kony was mostly unheard of. However, after the 30-minute film was released, Kony’s name and malicious activities became instantly viral. Thanks to the powers of the Internet and its online users, a successful global movement transpired vowing to bring down him down.
… Must I go on?
The Internet has proven to do more good than harm regarding social change. So far all you ‘slacktivism’ critics out there who poke fun at online activism: social media isn’t going anywhere. So perhaps there is a more proactive way to leverage cyber space, than to sarcastically criticize the ‘like’ and ‘retweet’ buttons.
Alaimo, Kara. (2015). How the Facebook Arabic Page “We Are All Khaled Said” Helped Promote the Egyptian Revolution. Social Media + Society. Sage Journals. Retrieved from: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2056305115604854
Brown, Heather, et. al. (2012). The Role of Social Media in the Arab Uprisings. Arab-America Media. Pew Research Center, Journalism and Media. Retrieved from: http://www.journalism.org/2012/11/28/role-social-media-arab-uprisings/
Henrik, Christensen. (2011). Political Activities on The Internet: Slacktivism or Political Participation by Other Means? Peer Reviews Journal on The Internet. Retrieved from: http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3336/2767
Invisible Children, (2012). KONY 2012. YouTube. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4MnpzG5Sqc
Newcomb, Tim. (2012). Internet Campaign Aims to Make Ugandan Warlord ‘Famous’. World. Time.com. Retrieved from: http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/03/07/internet-campaign-aims-to-make- ugandan-warlord-famous/
Preston, Jennifer. (2011). Movement Began with Outrage and a Facebook Page That Gave It an Outlet. Middle East. New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/06/world/middleeast/06face.html?_r=1
Schroeder, Rob et. al. (2012). Mining Twitter Data from The Arab Spring. About CTX. Global Ecco. Retrieved from: https://globalecco.org/mining-twitter-data-from-the-arab-spring