Activism or Slacktivism – Digital Communities in times of protest

The role  that social media and digital communities play in aiding activism & protesting has evolved rapidly with the rise of social media culture. Given the sheer enormity of the online world it is impossible not to see the benefits of utilising this medium – which is precisely why it has become the target of many a viral protesters campaign. An early example of this digital activism renaissance can be seen in the infamous Kony 2012 documentary which brought the medium of digital activism to the forefront.

While the digital community is the ideal way to spread a message to a mass audience it would be foolish to think that it can in anyway make a real difference without substantially backing from;

  • Accredited not for profit bodies
  • Government assistance
  • Substantial funding from independent backers

What it can do, however, is create the spark which could ignite any of these three powder kegs into beginning significant action.

 

Perhaps the biggest downfall of promoting activism in this way is the ‘social justice warrior’. A casual observing, nonchalant member of the digital community (or slacktivist) who feels that by ‘liking’ and ‘sharing’ superfluous articles to their friends they are making a difference to society as a whole – when really they are doing nothing more than justifying their own social beliefs to themselves in a thinly veiled attempt to appear up to date on current affairs. This is not to discredit their intentions but the manner in which they are conveyed is often irrational and this can be detrimental to the cause that they are trying to promote. An example of this can be seen in the irony of Anti-Trump supporters protesting, and promoting violence against their opposition, for fear of said opposition acting in the way that they are themselves. An irony which seems to be lost on many of these individuals.

Using the digital community as a means to promote change for activists is a wonderful tool that, when used effectively can encourage change, however this needs to be done thoughtfully and insightfully to avoid damaging the causes in the process.

Politics & Civic Cultures

The evolution of politics through social media has been a rapid one ever since the rise to power of US President Barack Obama. Employing one of the top heads at Facebook as his social media strategist (Dutta & Fraser 2008) Obama was able to command a legion of young, impressionable voters to the polling booths and take over the world – more or less. Given how successful he was it almost seems unfair to use him as the benchmark as it will be very difficult for any other politicians to reach that level of success. That hasn’t stopped them from trying though and since Obama’s breakthrough campaign then every politician and his dog has tried his hand at getting out there and getting noticed. From the good;

Picture1
It is well documented how Barack Obama utilised Social Media to run a campaign the likes of which had never been seen before.

To the not so good.

Picture2
The #AskTony didn’t quite work out for the Ex-Australian PM – although I would love to know how he would deal with a horse sized duck…

As society moves forward and the integration of social media into every day tasks – like checking in at your local spot or taking an Insta photo of your smashed avocado – it would seem that for politicians to succeed in winning the votes of the younger generations they will need to embrace social media and use it to drive forward into the future. This does not however mean that social media will become the be all and end all of politics. As a society we have seen many innovations drastically change life as we know it and then either be phased out for newer, better models (a good example of this is the digital video revolution (VHS > DVD > BluRay) or just left by the wayside. There is every chance that in 2 or 3 election cycles time that social media as we know it will be a distant memory – can anybody say MySpace? – as we continue to live our exorbitant overindulged lifestyle of use it up and throw it away and move on to the next crazy fad.

Perhaps the only saving grace for the social media revolution is the age of the population that is consuming it. As the years race forward ‘older’ candidates will have been born in the 60’s and 70’s – assuming full terms are served – in only 3 elections time it will be 2025. To say that platforms like Facebook and Twitter will still be relevant at such a distance would be near on impossible to predict and it is for this reason that rather than prophesise about what may happen politicians, and people in general, should embrace the powerful soapbox that they have been afforded the opportunity to stand on and shout at the top of their lungs to get their message across.

References

 Dutta, S, & Fraser, M 2008, Barack Obama and the Facebook Election, US News and World Report, 3 December 2016, <http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2008/11/19/barack-obama-and-the-facebook-election&gt;.

Obama Facebook screenshot, n.d, [image], viewed 11 December 2016, < http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-23WX2Z7-DbQ/VUhDnZ6LkWI/AAAAAAAAAJk/Dix6eIXmyYY/s1600/barack-obama-facebook.png&gt;

Horse Sized Duck Tweet, 2015, [image], viewed 11 December 2016, <http://resources2.news.com.au/images/2012/06/12/1226393/417417938-abbott-twitter.jpg&gt;