When clicking counts: In defense of slacktivism and clicktivism

There’s nothing more frustrating than reading an article that disparages online advocacy as “slacktivism” or “clicktivism.” Both terms derogatorily define online petitions, tweets and web messages as nothing more than feel-good measures that purport to support some kind of issue or social cause but really have little practical effect.

The ”slacker-activists as armchair do-gooders who don’t make a difference” argument has been made by the Guardian and Malcolm Gladwell, among others. Social movements with strong online interactions rarely are granted any credence compared to offline actions.

However, a few thought leaders have been recently rethinking online advocacy. In a New York Times piece last month, “Hashtag Activism, and Its Limits,” David Carr made the case that online advocacy can indeed affect real-world decisions. Carr offered several recent examples (the defeat of the SOPA bill and the Susan G. Komen incident to name a few) of how online pressure and awareness-building can create change. A Public Radio International piece on slacktivism also evaluated recent online social movements favorably. And Sortable.com’s recent infographic, “The Rise of the Slacktivist,” embraces the term and cites several examples of how slacktivism can actually lead to more real-world engagement. Check out their fantastic infographic below.

Online activism is — and has always been — a means to an end, just like phone calls, handwritten letters, and in-district meetings. Online petitions can have extraordinary reach to alert and activate tens of thousands of people around the world (or in the case of our current Thrive campaign, hundreds of thousands). A petition alone — as with any action by itself — cannot sustain a campaign or is unlikely to create change. But coupled with offline actions, media and grassroots activism, a petition can bring new voices into a campaign and help push direct action. And they are incredibly easy to share with others, so they can get passed around quickly and efficiently.

In the next two weeks leading up to the G8 summit, ONE will roll out some fantastic online actions to push global leaders to fund solutions to hunger and malnutrition. These actions, along with the postcards, petitions, #DearG8 hashtags, photos, and events are just part of a multifaceted campaign that pushes decision-makers to act. So, don’t think a click won’t count. That Facebook share graphic or the iPhone app petition has an overall affect for a campaign. To quote a trusted ONE staffer when discussing how to move US legislators, “A tweet by itself is just a tweet, but a thousand tweets are a song.”

Photo credit: Geek.com and Sortable.com

Garth Moore is US deputy director of new media for ONE and is a social media junkie. Catch him on Twitter at @garthmoore.