Clicktivism: Power to the people?

As an avid clicktivist myself, I wouldn’t hesitate to reel off the benefits of having such a far-reaching, fast-paced method of getting your voice heard at your disposal.  Clicktivism allows the Average Joe (Public or Bloggs) to really make a difference within society, literally at the push of a button.  It’s fairly easy to create an online petition and easier still to support one, and our increasingly social-media-centred lives mean spreading the message to our pool of friends and followers is practically second nature.  It WORKS as well.  For proof of its effectiveness we need look no further than the recent online petition to axe ‘comedian’ Dapper Laughs’ appearance at Campus in April: it received more than 1000 supporters in 16 hours and as a result the appearance was cancelled (HUZZAH!).  This is a perfect example of how clicktivism can bring a lot of people together extremely quickly in order to achieve a common goal.

And it doesn’t need to stop with sending a resounding ‘piss off’ to supposed comedy characters.  There are online petitions calling for the implementation of the opt-out system for organ donation in the UK, for the removal of tampon tax, attempts to save the NHS, attempts to save bees, and opposition to the NHS being privatised.  Clicktivism gives ordinary people a platform to draw attention to a diverse range of important issues that we face in today’s society, as well as a means to actually DO something about it.  It is accessible, efficient, and as we have seen, effective.  But I will also be the first to admit – it ain’t perfect.

The biggest strength of clicktivism – that being its accessibility – can also be its greatest drawback.  While it does allow important issues the attention they’re due, issues which may well have languished in the shadows while everyone vehemently complained but otherwise did nothing about them, it also gives complete and utter fuds (for want of a better phrase) a platform to spout their increasingly embarrassing, narrow-minded and offensive shite.  Take, for example, the online petition to remove Kanye West as a headliner of this year’s Glastonbury festival, or the infamous ‘Bring Back Clarkson’ (that phrase alone gives me the dry boke).  Not only were these online petitions created, but they attracted so much support that it was frankly terrifying –  ‘Bring Back Clarkson’ is currently sitting with over a million supporters!  So, while an instrument of good in the right hands, clicktivism can also be a tool of great evil in the wrong ones.  Although, there has been a response to the Kanye petition with one named ‘Cancel all other performers and rename the festival ‘Yeezus tour’, which in my opinion very successfully shows how ridiculous the initial petition was in the first place.  (The guy who created it has never even been to Glastonbury).

But this raises another issue with clicktivism.  Is it taken seriously enough?  Dapper Laughs has felt the brunt of online activism before, when his ITV show was cancelled due to a petition against him which attracted 68,000 supporters.  This resulted in him apparently ‘retiring’ the character.  But would a retired character agree to do an appearance in a Glasgow bar?  Perhaps Daps felt since it was only 68,000 people, and it was only online, maybe he could just sweep it under the carpet?  The same thing happened in Glasgow recently regarding the ‘Save the Steps’ campaign.  It started off as an online petition which has since gained almost 16,500 supporters.  Yet despite this, the council voted to demolish the steps – although ‘Save the Steps’ have not given up.  So this begs the question, is clicktivism seen as a serious form of activism, or just a precursor, a kind of kid-on activism while the real deal remains standing out in the rain with placards.

While it is important to remember that the age-old method of standing/marching and shouting about something is always good to fall back on, in this day and age the benefits of online activism are not to be ignored.  It reaches a lot of people damn quickly.  It is still an action, even if it isn’t a physically-active one.  And if more and more people are made aware of important issues while they sit at computer screens, surely more and more people could then be inspired to stand up and move the action elsewhere.
[Caitlin Walker]

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