Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Reaction to Module 8 readings

It's difficult for me to write a cogent post about social media and activism, because my thoughts on the issue are so strong. For that reason, I will try to keep this post straightforward.

See more on Know Your Meme

Inside Avaaz - can online activism really change the world?

This article from 2013 details the history and scope of an up-and-coming,  non-profit Avaaz. They capitalize on the virality of social media to promote their causes, like stopping the genocide of Rohingya people in Burma.

The secret to some of their success comes down to harnessing the potential reach  of the internet.

"We're like a laboratory for virality," said then-head of press for Avaaz, Sam Barratt (cited in Cadwalladr, 2013).

 Barratt explains that Avaaz uses principles of Internet marketing to get as much exposure as possible for their causes.

Author Carole Cadwalladr also discusses how online activism campaigns like those from Avaaz may be problematic. Critics of Avaaz say they're capitalizing on groundwork that other non-profits have been laying for years. Avaaz has also been criticized for its support of freelance journalists in Syria.

This article is written as an editorial, but it seems that Cadwalladr has balanced her arguments well. However, the tone of her closing paragraph suggests she's still skeptical about online activism.
"Maybe slacktivism has its advantages. Maybe Avaaz and its members are less constrained, less scared. Maybe you can save fin whales and Edward Snowden and bring peace to Palestine, too." (Cadwalladr, 2013)

Political activities on the Internet: Slacktivism or political participation by other means?

Henrik Serup Christensen's academic article questions some of the assumptions made in "Inside Avaaz." Though Christensen's paper focuses on political activism online, I think his research can be applied to other online activism campaigns.

He looks at whether online campaigns can create real world political change, and whether participants in online campaigns also participate in activism offline. In other words, he is trying to debunk the idea that online activism is only "slacktivism".

Due to the complexity of the issue, Christensen does not reach a solid conclusion and suggests more research on the topic.

My take aways?

  •  "it is premature to dismiss the impact of the Internet on political activism altogether",
  • "being involved in effortless political activities online does not replace traditional forms of participation, if anything, they reinforce off–line engagement,"
  • and, "[slacktivism]... is at worst harmless fun and can at best help invigorate  citizens" (Christensen, 2011). 


Cadwalladr, C. (2013). “Inside Avaaz – Can Online Activism Really Change the World?” The Guardian. Accessed on 26 February, 2016 from http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/nov/17/avaaz-online-activism-can-it-change-the-world.

Christensen, H.S. (2011). “Political Activities on the Internet: Slacktivism or Political Participation by Other Means?” First Monday. Accessed on 26 February, 2016 from http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3336/2767, DOI:10.5210/fm.v16i2.3336.

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