Brace yourself, it’s an election year. If you’re even the tiniest bit active online, you’ve probably already been bombarded with political ads, posts, tweets, videos, petitions and – of course – memes. And there’s no end in sight, at least until we bid the Obamas a final farewell.
There’s no doubt social media has played a substantial role in the 2016 election season. Many of us have joined in on the online conversation, voicing our opinions in the comments section of a subreddit or sharing a post that makes us feel hopeful for the future of politics.
But is this form of online activism helping the causes we support or could it be preventing real change?
Clicktivism, aka slacktivism, is the use of social and digital media to facilitate social and political change and activism. It’s been called the reduction of activism to a click or sign of an online petition, a pathway to passivity, and a detriment to real-world activism. While many of these perceptions bare some truth, none of them manage to capture the truth entirely.
What clicktivism is and is not
We live in an era where people think they’re doing their civic duty by posting on Facebook or tweeting a hashtag, but they’re not. Clicktivism is rampant and not real activism.
As a whole, it’s neither good, nor bad. Its effectiveness lies in how it’s utilized in relation to the “real,” non-digital world. And that’s where things get messy.
At its best, it can be used as a tool to spread awareness and encourage activism.
At its worst, clicktivism is inaction, complacency and passivity. It gives us an outlet to express our thoughts, feelings, opinions and beliefs with the feeling of being heard and without the weight of voicing our opinions via the channels that make a difference. This is the type of clicktivism we must be wary of. This is the type of clicktivism that makes us feel like our passive participation has impacted the bigger picture without the need to vote, engage in peaceful protests or write to our legislators.
What clicktivism should never be is an end-all, be-all to leading real sociopolitical change. Liking a meme, ranting in a comments section, or retweeting a snappy political tweet cannot be exchanged or mistaken for real world activism.
No amount of clicking could ever substitute for Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership of the Civil Rights Movement, the Stonewall riots that paved the way for LGBT rights, acting on the right to vote, or any other action demonstrating the power of activism to facilitate change.
Our dependency on clicktivism
Online interactions don’t directly impact real-world change, so beginning and ending your support at clicktivism isn’t going to get us anywhere. Yet so many of us are more apt to like or retweet a post than to act on our right to vote.
Voter turnout rates in America are among the lowest in the developed world. When roughly 60 percent of eligible American voters don’t vote, you know there’s a huge problem.
This inaction often means the opinions of the majority are not taken into account — a reality that has been apparent in our current presidential campaign. Only 9 percent of Americans actually chose either Trump or Clinton as the nominees during the primaries. Our policies and policymakers should probably represent more than nine percent of us.
But this lack of action certainly isn’t a sign of apathy, nor is it a lack of engagement. A recent survey showed 69 percent of millennials consume news daily and a quick look at Facebook, Twitter, and other social sites will reveal clear evidence that people have strong opinions about how our nation is run, where injustices lie, and what needs to change.
There’s a reason, rather multiple reasons, that fewer than 60 percent of eligible American voters don’t go to the polls, and it’s often not political indifference.
Americans with illnesses or disabilities, and those who are low-income or high-income are less likely to vote because they can’t get to the polls, or because they have voter registration issues. And of course, you have the voters who feel their votes don’t make a difference.
With voting inaccessible, difficult, or seemingly pointless to nearly half our population, clicktivism starts to look like a great, secondary option that allows us to voice our opinions and be heard in some capacity, without the actual trouble of voting. Social media is more accessible than going to the polls and simpler than writing to a congressperson, making it easier for many of us to subscribe to clicktivism in the place of activism.
Breaking through the silence of inaction
The growing sentiment in our country is that voters feel that their votes don’t matter; they don’t think that their voices can make a difference. They’re right. By making social media their voice, they are ultimately excluding themselves from the conversations that matter; from the conversations where they can and will be heard.
While clicktivism may be good for mobilizing action and spreading awareness, it does not result in action on its own. Driving social and political action takes real-world activism — not the passivity of expressing your opinions from behind a keyboard and sending them into the expansive void of the Internet where they go to die.
We need to spend our collective energy on the actions that will produce reactions from our communities and government agencies. But in order to do that, we need to educate ourselves on the which steps actually facilitate true sociopolitical change. We need to ensure that clicktivism reverts to the position it should have held from the beginning — a supplement to action rather than the basis of it.
This means registering to vote and reminding friends and family to vote — not waiting for others to start an online petition to solve the problems that you could have a hand in solving.
It means utilizing your right to vote, rather than showing your support by liking a status update you agree with.
It means calling and writing your legislators rather than taking a backseat and passively watching politics play out online.
It means ensuring that the voices of the majority can once again be heard; can once again count for something.
Repurposing clicktivism into a driving force of political action
When used wisely, clicktivism can be a force for good. We’ve seen how social media can expose otherwise civically disengaged young voters to important causes. However, that’s where it ends for most young voters. We need to take it a step further. We need to modernize the political process and make it more accessible with technology, so that fulfilling our civic duty is just as simple as engaging on social media.
This is the reason I created Hear My Voice – to cut through misinformation and provide a platform that makes activism and unbiased information accessible to everyone.
Hear My Voice is an app where you can see side-by-side, nonpartisan comparisons of important political issues, donate to causes, contact your legislators and register to vote all in one convenient place. After all, if we can deposit checks and order coffee from our phones, it’s about time civic engagement caught up with the program.
With real opportunities for activism now right at our fingertips, we must ensure that we utilize these tools.
This election it’s important that we do more than chime in on Trump’s or Clinton’s latest antics.
Please, this November use your right to vote, call and write your legislators and encourage your friends, family members and community to do the same so our government and our laws can be more representative of all of our voices.