Is Online Activism a Gift From God?

I am rather conscious of my online engagement, and I try to an extent to consider my different online platforms as forums for sharing and learning about different social and cultural issues in society. I like certain people and organisations to receive knowledge about contemporary problems. I share articles about certain topics to contribute to the online discussions. I comment on certain quotes and dilemmas to socially engage. In several ways, I use the online space to contribute to society’s social and cultural agenda, but in a very non-time-consuming and easy-accessible way.

Embedded Tweet by Anne Bro, May 2017

The rather new phenomenon that I myself have become a part of is called ‘slacktivism’. It is a term constructed by the words ‘slacking’ and ‘activism’, and suggests a form of online activism that does not require too much time or energy, but still is a way of contributing to and engaging with different social problems (Brown & Quinn-Allan 2015).

To consider the term further, I have created a Canva to visualise my interpretation and online use of the phenomenon:

Slactivism
Canva by Anne Bro, May 2017

But online activism has more nuances than slacktivistic performance. To quote the current pope Francis, who has a merely positive attitude towards new media:

A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give, but also to receive […] Internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity […] This is a gift from God (Carty 2015, p. 3).

Religious or not, pope Francis here importantly underlines how social media brings people together in solidarity. The sharing and contributing that it enables makes the voice of the public sphere strong and powerful. A lot of citizens now have the platform to not just gain knowledge of social issues, but also to contribute with knowledge and engagement.

In one of my first blog posts, I wrote about how the engagement that social media brings can foster a bigger awareness about these social issues. Here I was persuaded by the English professor of creativity and design David Gauntlet and his argument about social media and global warming. He helped me understand that when having the possibility to contribute to the world, you get more engaged with the world.

Online activism is not just a way for people to engage in social issues individually. It creates a space where social movements can arise (Carty 2015, p. 7). It facilitates a forum where activists around the globe can meet and discuss common issues, and it gives those same activists the ability to share their concerns with other people without being restricted or depended on publicity through established media companies.

4112799408_e335128fe3_z
Mean Twitter bird by Ross Breadmore (CC BY 2.0)

All the possibilities that online activism brings also have crucial limits. To suggest that social media gives a voice to all citizens is to blindly suggest that all citizens have access to the Internet. Even though a great number of people in Western countries have access to the Internet, online activism excludes an enormous group of people who live in countries where Internet access is not as common for the average citizen.

Social media also has its limits in reaching out to a broader audience. On Facebook and Twitter, you have to follow or like a certain community or hashtag to receive the information from the activists. This limits the voice of the activists to people who maybe already agree with and know of their messages.

But even under these circumstances, online activism brings opportunities for more people to be a part of and engage in social issues – either in an easy and fast manner, or in a constitution that mirrors offline activist groups.

References

Brown, A and Quinn-Allan, D 2015, ‘Bridging Empathy and Protective Indifference?: Animal Welfare, Online Engagement, and the Activist-Slacktivist Divide’, Animal Publics: Emotions, Empathy, Activism, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, July.

Carty, V 2015, Social movements and new technology, Westview, New York, pp. 1-16

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