The Relevance Of Online And Digital Activism

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Though online activism may not be sufficient in amending governmental practices, history has proven that it is certainly enough to not only spread, but to urge the importance of a specific message. For this reason, online activism is extremely relevant in the contemporary digital society, which is also a network society. The rejection of the request to abrogate article 50 by parliament will be discussed to suggest that online activism is still relevant, but it may not necessarily be enough to challenge parliament, amongst other online movements such as the ALS ice bucket challenge and the ‘Scrap Tampon Tax’ movement. Additionally, the concept of activism itself will be explored and compared to 'slacktivism', a concept which Christensen (p. 1) defines as “political activities that have no impact on real-life political outcomes, but only serve to increase the feel-good factor of the participants”. Through these concepts I will be acknowledging the links between relevance and effectiveness in order to propose that online activism is indeed relevant, despite its general inability to be effective.

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Relevance can be described as the extent of close connection to what is happening or what is being discussed (Dictionary.cambridge.org, 2019). When questioning whether online activism is relevant in the contemporary digital society, it is essential to highlight that having relevance does not equate to being effective or influential. Instead, online activism demonstrates that our society has become a networked one which depends greatly on the use of technology (Castells, 2010). According to Castells, networks have become the most efficient organisational form of society, thanks to three vital causes. Firstly, due to a technological revolution, industrialism has been disrupted by informationalism, a technological paradigm (Castells, 2010). ASK DP TEACHER – WHAT IS MENAT BY THE CRISIS OF INDUSTRIALISM? HOW DOES THE DECREASE IN PRODUCTION OF WEALTH CAUSE A NETWORK SOCIETY TO FORM? Another cause of the formation of a network society is individualism and people’s desire for freedom and autonomy for themselves. HOW DOES THIS CAUSE A NETWORK SOCIETY TO FORM?

Activism is a form of campaigning which aims to initiate social or political change. (source?) Under activism comes many varieties, one being online activism, the use of technological platforms such as social media and radio podcasts, to deliver political messages to the world in hope to spread awareness and therefore cause some sort of governmental change. Theorists however question to what extent this definition is true- is online activism really a form of activism, or is it just ‘slacktivism’? Online activism is criticized because it is believed to simply give participants a “feel-good factor” (Christensen, 2011 p.1.) as opposed to committed participation, this can be described as ‘slacktivism’, or in other words ‘armchair activism’. Christensen states that “the means and the outcomes used by slacktivists are insufficient to achieve political goals” (p. , and for that reason critics view online activism as inferior and disposable (Halupka, 2014). Changing your Facebook or Instagram profile picture to one that holds political significance, such as the pride flag to support LGBT rights, or liking tweets with hashtags like ‘#lovewins’ are examples generally used when outlining slacktivism. The reason being is that those who engage in these ‘slacktivist’ activities are putting little to no effort in engaging or keeping up to date with the political position of the cause (Morozov, 2011), hence suggesting that online activism does not necessarily impact political decisions. However, this is not to say minor acts online go to complete waste, in fact, there have been cases where they have proven to be useful. In 2014, the ‘ALS ice bucket challenge’, a challenge which involves throwing a bucket full of ice water over your head, went viral on social media. The challenge aimed to spread awareness of the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis disease, and it did exactly that. Not only did it spread awareness through the sharing of videos, it also raised over $220 million worldwide. Furthermore, a study conducted in 2011 at Georgetown University implied that slacktivists engage in twice as many activities as those who do not take part in slacktivism and therefore their actions have more potential to influence the actions of others (Csic.georgetown.edu, 2019).

Additionally, the term ‘clicktivism’ is used by critics to describe those who sign petitions in no more than just a click, and this leads on to the discussion about Brexit. What is the link between Brexit and clicktivism? Article 50 is the only legal plan, written under the Lisbon Treaty, which allows any member state of the European Union (EU) to exit. The article provides a guide that countries must follow in order to successfully withdraw from the EU and its obligatory codes. Following a petition for Britain to remain in the EU, the government stated that they “…will not revoke Article 50. We will honour the result of the 2016 referendum and work with Parliament to deliver a deal that ensures we leave the European Union.” (Petitions - UK Government and Parliament, 2019). There is a clear contrast between the public opinion and the actions of the government, shown in the rejection of the 5.8 million signatures to pull out of Brexit, which creates the ongoing question of whether or not online activism is adequate to pressurize governments. The petition to revoke article 50 was the most popular, with the most signatures, to be presented to parliament in the history of the UK (BBC News, 2019). Despite its large figures, the government disregarded the petition and decided to move forward with its original plans to leave the EU, claiming that the 17.4 million people that voted to leave the EU during the referendum in 2016 is more significant, and that the number of signatures “cannot be ignored” (Brexit minister Chris Heaton-Harris in a debate). The key aspect to remember is that during and even before the petition to revoke article 50, there was a great amount of discourse around the topic. The ongoing Brexit debate took place not only online, but also in the form of physical protests outside the UK parliament. The use of media nowadays pushes individual’s participation in both civic and political discussions (Gil de Zuniga, Veenstra, Vraga & Shah, 2010), reiterating the fact that online participation furthers social relevance.

Cristina Leston-Bandeira, a professor at the University of Leeds, claims that petitions alone are not effective, but they are very useful to make change, and that it depends on how exactly these campaigners make use of petitions in order to influence governments (C Leston-Bandiera, 2013). The petition to scrap tampon tax in 2015, following a petition with approximately 320,000 signatures, is a great example of a successful petition. Although there were other variables that lead to the success of the campaign, online activism contributed greatly using various petition websites, including that of the UK government, and the hashtag ‘#endtampontax’, which spread around many social media platforms. Again, the discussion about feminism and women having equal rights has been around for many years, and online activism continues to not only enhance, but encourage the discussion.     

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