There’s a pretty interesting debate going on over the possible valuelessness and perhaps even harm that’s generated by clicktivism. Changing your Facebook profile picture to combat violence against children doesn’t actually stop a kid from getting beaten up by her father. Updating your status to the color of the bra you’re wearing doesn’t actually hasten research into how to prevent cancerous cells from spreading through breasts and into vital organs and the bloodstream.
Although these kinds of campaigns often decidedly raise awareness, that awareness may be fleeting; there’s always something else to be aware of and the part that’s supposed to follow the inception of awareness, action, fails to be birthed. As sociologist Stanley Cohen posited, we cannot possibly give our full effort to every cause the evokes our concern and when we are bombarded with causes of concern, we tend to shut down. Raised awareness is where the activism part of clicktivism tends to end.
So this is why people like Micah White over at Adbusters Blackspot Blog and New York dilettante writer Malcolm Gladwell have problems with clicktivist campaigns for social change. As White put it in August, clicktivist campaigns don’t do much because they obsess over data metrics, like click-through rate and the number of users, so the spirit, message and real action are lost.
To generate a widespread, and thus increase metrics like unique users, campaign organizers have to ask very little of participants. It’s easy to get people to swipe a nice picture of a cartoon from their youth; it’s exponentially more difficult to get those same people to meet as a smart mob the steps of their state capitol building and protest for stiffer penalties for child abuse. Rather than turn ordinary concerned citizens into activists, clicktivist campaigns tend breed complacency by allowing people to play crusader with little or no effort — or impact — on their parts.
Micah White must know firsthand the difficulty in rousing others to action beyond using their mouse with unfortunately less-than-widespread responses to the Buy Nothing Day (November 23) and Buy Nothing Christmas. These two Adbusters-sponsored (or -encouraged, I’m not sure) movements are simple enough: On a particular day, everybody just don’t buy anything. It’s not even one of those concepts that’s harder than it sounds; making sure you have gas in your car and food in your pantry the day before a BND is enough to sustain any Westerner for 24 hours. A Buy Nothing Christmas, when all of the expectations of the friends and family are upon you is decidedly more difficult, but it can also be pulled off with an explanation of your motives and a thickening of the skin toward accusations of being a kook and a Grinch. “They don’t get it,” you can reassure yourself silently with clenched teeth and fist, “but they’ll get theirs. Yes they will.” See? Done and done.
The motives you’ll have to explain is that you are, as Adbusters puts it, attacking consumer capitalism “like a swarm of bees attacking a wounded beast — with a billion incessant stings.” It is, for anyone who is not a fan of companies like MasterCard declining their cardholders’ donations to WikiLeaks, a wonderful idea. A billion people reminding the system exactly who’s in charge by exercising our purchasing power through the peaceful, nonviolent and, really, non-anything act of simply not buying things is tough to criticize. It’s getting that billion people to do it that’s the tough part. They’ve been tied up lately searching for the perfect picture of Thundarr the Barbarian.
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