‘Clicktivism’ is not replacing traditional activism, it’s supplementing it

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Jodi Pearce
Writer

‘Clicktivism’ is the name given to the newest form of activism, conducted largely through social media as a platform for change. Online campaigns and petitions are launched on sites such as change.org and 38 Degrees, often attracting thousands of supporters overnight. Clicktivism, however, has recently come under fire, with activist Micah White writing in The Guardian that the movement is responsible for ruining leftist activism. Others have claimed that it is a crucial part of a culture in which we are more concerned with boosting our own egos and patting ourselves on the back than affecting real change. Some take the view that clicktivism makes it easy for us to look away from unsavoury or upsetting issues, filling our heads with the misconception that if we just click, it will all be better. These critics forget the power of numbers, and the purpose of inclusive activism in the first place.

38 Degrees, one of the largest clicktivism sites, has over 2.5 million members in the UK. The site prides itself on its truly grassroots approach – campaigns may be suggested by any member. With the average donation to the site last year at £12.43; it is clear to see that this isn’t a case of the wealthy and the powerful funding their own agendas. This truly is the ordinary person, fighting for what they believe in an accessible way.

Wes Streeting, MP for Ilford North, recently said “there have been a number of times I’ve heard colleagues from all parties slag off 38 Degrees because it is deeply inconvenient to have members of the public contacting us about their views”. Many of those in power would prefer it if only those literate enough to compose lengthy, strongly worded letters, those engaged enough to be a member of a political party, or those with enough spare time to get truly involved were to contact them. It is a threat and an annoyance to them to be confronted by a movement that is accessible to anyone, be it busy parents, the overworked and stressed labour force or the elderly confined to their homes. The crux of the matter is that these kind of online movements have real power, and that is precisely why some members of the establishment loathe them.

There are also those who think that clicktivism is the marker of a lazy society that has lost touch with what activism ‘should’ be. The idea that you can only be a ‘real’ activist if you’ve pounded the pavements or pushed flyers through doors is inherently elitist. For any true supporter of democracy, for anyone who genuinely, desperately wants to change things, it must be acknowledged that the more accessible it is, the stronger the campaign. This online version of activism is encouraging those who would never normally choose to engage in politics to add their voice to the protest. Why are those who claim to ‘want change’ opposing this?

Perhaps this outcry is merely a generational shift in activism being unjustly interpreted as disinterest and apathy. In the furore surrounding clicktivism, it’s important to remember that this new, online energy isn’t replacing traditional activism; it is supplementing it. The 84.5 per cent turnout in the Scottish Independence referendum, which included an estimated 75 per cent of 16 and 17 year olds, proves that this generation is far from being detached and unconcerned. 60,000 people recently took to the streets in Manchester outside the Conservative conference to protest against austerity and cuts. A Refugees Welcome rally in London in September was attended by tens of thousands. Jeremy Corbyn’s stunning victory, as the 200 to 1 outsider who defied all expectations and topped the ballot, saw 88,449 people pay £3 just to be able to vote for him. Clicktivism and social media are just helping the fight. It is difficult to deny that clicktivism can work quickly and effectively to make the voice of the public heard. After the heartbreaking photographs of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler who drowned in an attempt to reach safety, were published, it took a mere 24 hours for a petition demanding Britain accept more refugees to reach 100,000 signatures. This then qualified the petition for debate in parliament, forcing David Cameron to backtrack on his earlier statement that Britain had done enough. In the weeks since, I have seen social media used as a tool to organise protests, marches and collections of toiletries and clothing, with speed, and reach, far surpassing traditional modes of activism.
There are so many things I think are wrong in this world. There are so many things I would change if I could. Barely a day passes without me reading or seeing something that makes me furious, but  it’s simply impossible to go out and protest against every single one. So I click. I add my name, along with thousands of others, in the hope that it might make a small difference to someone, somewhere. Those who criticise clicktivism have forgotten that when people act collectively, however that may be, something happens. We have a real weapon in social media. It doesn’t sleep, doesn’t censor, doesn’t exclude. The 38 Degrees website explains its name, stating that “38 degrees is the angle at which a pile of snowflakes becomes an avalanche. When enough gather in the right place, they become an unstoppable force.”If that unstoppable force can be found in clicktivism, why would anyone choose to shun it?