After several Big Green Debates about specific environmental issues we’re having a debate about campaign tactics this issue. Zarqa Mahmood and Sawsan Bastawy are debating the merits of online activism, i.e. clicktivism or slacktivism to its detractors. A powerful campaigning tool or so easy to use it’s meaningless? Read on and make up your own mind! 

Yes – Sawsan Bastawy

The pejorative term ‘slacktivism’ (meaning activism that takes little time, effort, or involvement,) is used to challenge the worth of online activism, and question whether or not it accomplishes anything bar giving people a sense of satisfaction.

The terms clicktivism and slacktivism are oft used interchangeably; and therefore the anti-slacktivist and anti-clicktivist backlash are often indistinguishable. However, clicktivism and slacktivism are, and should be seen as, distinct. The internet provides a platform for activists to speak. It assembles audiences and creates spaces that are hard to find in the real-world or mainstream media for a message to be shared.

Petitions are considered a slacktivist action and have received significant negative press because they require little effort. However, petitions often have phenomenal global effects. It is therefore impetuous and lazy to say all online actions that require little physical effort are valueless, and worthy of a derogatory term like ‘slacktivism’.

Clicktivism, unlike slacktivism, encompasses all manner of online actions, quick and easy to long-term and labour-intensive. Volunteering your skills online is great for people who want to donate their time and skills to a cause they care about, or to a cause that is geographically distant. The United Nations Online Volunteering Portal is an excellent example of this.

It goes without saying that criticisms of clicktivism and use of the term slacktivisim in a pejorative or derogatory way overwhelmingly originate in the West and/or are directed at Western clicktivism. In some countries, liking or creating a Facebook page is a tremendous display of strength against a dictatorship, particularly when we consider that people are routinely arrested for Facebook posts and tweets in some countries.

We can acknowledge that clicktivism has potential problems, and that it can lead to lazy activism, but this does not mean that it does not have value and that it does not constitute real activism. While few would likely claim that clicktivism is the best form of activism, it is certainly a valuable form of activism, and has the potential to challenge real-world campaigns in terms of efficacy and impact. We simply need to develop tools and strategies to make sure that a dangerous culture of ‘slacktivism’ isn’t born as a result. 

No – Zarqa Mahmood

Today the internet is streaming with so called ‘clicktivism’, as it is considered to be cost effective, fast and easy to use. However, this form of online activism should not be regarded as activism, it is merely a slacktivist method activists use for their political means.

The concept of slacktivism refers to activities that are effortlessly performed. They are considered more effective in making a participant feel good about them self rather than achieving the stated political aims.

Online petitions are a prime example of slacktivism, as there is little effort put into generating a petition, sending it out via online channels, and it spreading to mass audiences. The idea of it reaching a big audience is phenomenal; however getting signatures via a click is simply lazy and this should not even be considered as real activism.

A recent example of slacktivism is of the ‘no make-up selfie’ to support Cancer Research. The ‘no make-up selfie’ was a hash-tag trend started by a member of the public, who posted a picture of herself with no make-up on and nominated others to do the same. Soon the trend became viral and the individuals who joined in felt they were doing their bit for the charity. Were they really? After a massive viral spread Cancer Research got involved by suggesting those who took selfies could do something meaningful and donate £3 via text. Soon after, people started to screenshot their donations and it went viral, showing the possibilities of people donating merely to make themselves feel good and to look good in front of their peers.

Clicktivists may argue they utilize the internet as a catalyst to promote and arrange events in order to show support for a certain campaign and it can be extremely cost-effective. However these are just ‘virtual activists’, who fail to recognise that real activism (offline activism) is completely different to the online world. Overall online activism is argued to be clicktivism however, it actually displays pure slacktivism.