I was never one engage in traditional politics. Sure, I make up the generation far too often positioned as the ‘disposable population’ that is lazy and utterly self-absorbed (Strauss, 2011). But that doesn’t mean I am, or the rest of my generation are disengaged completely. We have a form of activism that is so risk-free, that with a click of a button I can advertise my goodness towards a cause and relax, knowing I’ve made a difference.
I’m talking about social ‘slacktivism’, the all too easy ‘click through activism’ that’s purely semiotic, feeds off the hype of the crowd, and actively reinforces that you are doing the right thing (Strauss, 2011). Ring any bells? Here’s a hint.
Yes, #Kony2012. The movement that Telegraph Columnist, Andrew Bolt (2012) referred to as “the ultimate symbol of our no- sweat moralising”. Thrown into the public eye within hours, the movement generated over 100 million fan interactions online by then end of 2012 (Uvie-Emegbo, 2014), but was left heavily criticised.
So what’s the issue?
While the digital age has opened new avenues into broader political participation (Jenkins, 2012), such models of activism tend to be short-lived. Take the recent #BringBackOurGirls campaign for example, trending worldwide one day only to be replaced with #WhatJayZSaidToSolange the next.
— Ayane❁ (@FruittyAriana) May 13, 2014
The bigger issue however is the ability of online users to see past the hype, assess credibility and engage in a level of critical thinking to weigh up one’s own arguments, especially with regards to how much real activism is happening as a result. As Jenkins (2012) puts it, “with enormous ‘spreadability’ comes limited ‘drillability’ (the ability to ‘drill’ deep into the issue)”.
Because if we don’t, here’s what happens:
“Two years down the line, the world has moved on beyond the #Kony2012 Campaign. The movie sold millions, funds were raised, and many exploited the campaign for their own profit.”
Dr Uvie-Emegbo (2014)
Jason Russel’s son knew what I was talking about.
However, digital technologies have played a significant role in youth political mobilisation. Take the Occupy movement, Arab Spring and Spain’s ‘Indignados’ as clear examples. Young people have set up their own circuits of knowledge and education, and used social media platforms to coordinate action across a more dispersed network (Jenkins, 2012).
So online activism has its benefits; a once powerless generation is given a voice, where they can create and circulate their own media and re-frame the core message for their peers (Jenkins, 2012). But come to think of it, I’ve never ‘liked’, ‘shared’, or ‘ReTweeted’ for a social or political cause. Guess I am completely disengaged.
Strauss, Jesse. (2011). Youth movement in a culture of hopelessness, Aljazeera.com, viewed May 10, 2014