Sunday, 13 March 2011

Does Clicktivism Really Work?

A few months ago I received a mesage, via Facebook I think, to 'Save Sakineh Ashtiani', an Iranian woman who faced death by stoning for supposed (and apparently unsubstantiated) adultery and being an accomplice in her husband's murder. 

I clicked the link, read about her plight and signed up to 'help'. Using an already provided template, I sent an email to a number of embassies around the world to higlight my outrage at this injustice. I felt good, I had done something positive and for the next few days I kept up to date with what was happening. 'Was the campaign working?' 'Was her sentence going to be quashed'?

Sakineh Ashtiani
A few days later, I received another email. I forget the cause now, but it was the first of many I have received since. From Conflict Cocoa in the Ivory Coast (which I have blogged about previously) to fighting against the Tory Government cuts, it seems not a day goes by where there isn't a new cause to get involved in.

Now, after signing up to more than a dozen campaigns, sending emails and writing to various Governments, embassies and multinational companies, I am wondering if it is all really making a difference? 

Does clictivism, the snazzy name given by the media, often done from the comfort of ones home, (armchair activism if you like), really work? I decided to look into it and found that there was a wealth of opinion on the subject, passionate discussions about the merits or ineffectiveness of clictivism.

I learnt that the name clicitivism comes from the fact that for many of the organisations involved in raising awareness of these causes, the number of 'clicks' was the barometer of success. The more people that opened an email the more successful a campaign.

SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation, A/B testing, bounces, click through rates, referrals - these were the jargon and marketing techniques that according to some appeared to be most important. Organisations boasted of having millions of active members but in truth it appears that many of these 'members' rarely open the emails, or bother to click the links.

However, there were also examples of where these campaigns appear to have achieved the desired effect. According to the BBC, "much of the world has agreed not to buy cocoa from Ivory Coast until Laurent Gbagbo hands over power to Alassane Outtara, widely recognised as the winner of the November 2010 presidential election."

Egypt Protests

The goings on in the Middle East over the last few weeks has shown that people power, protest and demonstration can have a huge effect and bring about change - in some of these cases even a change in the Government. Millions of angry and frustrated Egyptians, Tunisians and Libyans, as well as those from a host of other countries in the region have made their voices heard.

With media blackouts being imposed, mobile communications blocked and in some cases the internet being shut off there have been many internet and email based campaigns to raise funds for satellite equipment to allow those on the ground to communicate with each other and organise themselves. Other campaigns have asked us to sign petitions, or write to the various Governments to voice our concerns. Whilst millions of people in these affected countries risk their lives to fight for what they believe in, we are being asked to click on an email link.

On the one hand, there is the argument that something is better than nothing. An email sent, or a link clicked, is better than just watching things unfold without taking any action at all. 

On the other, is that this is the easy way out, that it doesn't really involve taking any action at all. That with the number of causes fighting for our attention growing, the messages are being diluted.

I am unlikely to go and physically protest against all of the injustices in the world. To put it bluntly, I am just too busy, and that is probably the case for most of you reading this too. I think clicktivism does have its place, but its place as an effective method for bringing about change probably ranks lower than actual activism, the kind where you get up onto your feet.

Passionately worded emails and petitions would not have brought down the Government in Egypt or Tunisia. Marketing speak and SEO will be useless in defeating Gadaffi. In these cases it is the physical presence and actions of the people that will have the desired effect.

I will continue to be an armchair clicktivist, I will continue to be horrified by the injustices in the world and try in my own small way to 'do my bit', but I won't be under any illusions that the real activism is happening on the streets and involves more than a click of a few buttons.

So what of Sakineh Ashtiani? Well she gained a temporary reprieve from her sentence of being stoned to death but the fight for her freedom still goes on. Click here to save her.

What do you think?


nothingprofound said...

Well-written article, and food for thought. I suppose it's worth clicking a link if there's the slightest possibility it might do some good, if it's a cause you genuinely support and believe in.

dbs said...

This made me think. Thanks.

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