Is ‘Clicktivism’ destroying meaningful social activism?

This video, Is ‘clicktivism’ destroying meaningful activism?, provides an in depth debate stemmed from the backlash received against #Kony2012 which called into question the effects on online campaigning.  It runs long, but it is definitely worth the watch!


Motion: Social Media ‘Clicktivism’ creates more Apathy than Empathy

Clicktivism is a combination of online expression and traditional activism. Clicktivism is not exclusively the support or promotion of a cause online. It is the use of the digital media for facilitating social change and activism. “More often than not this form of supporting and promoting a cause on social media can include a whole range of activities…” (CLICKTIVIST.ORG). However, it has been said that a click is not enough to have impact on our world. Although social media is a very huge and powerful platform to raise awareness, action will always be more effective, and that needs to be recognized.

This article goes into a debate about clicktivism on the positive and negative aspects. The different scenarios that are mentioned among the debate give a good understanding of the pros and cons of clicktivism.

Having Achieved Widespread Awareness, Whats Next?: An Affirmative Post

In April of 2014, tragedy struck when 276 schoolgirls were abducted from their dormitory by the terrorist group Boko Haram in the village of Chibok located in Northern Nigeria.  Nigerians grew outraged and this horrible story began tugging on the heartstrings of the world which lead to the emergence of the hashtag #bringbackourgirls. It took less than three weeks for this hashtag to be used over one million times on various social media platforms.  The First Lady at the time, Michelle Obama, also voiced her concern by sharing a selfie where she was holding a sign reading #bringourgirlsback.  Sadly, the world joining hand-in-hand to bring these girls back grew unsuccessful as a majority of these girls are still missing. This post will discuss two articles that support our blog’s stance on clicktivism.

Maeve Shearlaw, writer for, wrote an article titled “Did the #bringbackourgirls make a difference in Nigeria?” which provided a critical analysis of how clicktivism affected this tragic story. Shearlaw defined clicktivism as “the lure of supporting a campaign perceived to be in vogue – before swiftly moving on to the next.”  The article then argued that this is exactly what western supporters grew guilty of during the #bringbackourgirls campaign and that the efforts made could have been better placed to support journalists and campaigners looking to hold the Nigerian government to account.  The conclusion this article presented is that while the clicktivism is beneficial, “the girls are still missing…that is the ultimate measure of success and we are not there yet.”

The second article this post will unfold was writing by the Huffington Post, titled “One Year Later, #bringbackourgirls Shows the Limits of Clicktivism.”  Craig Kielburger, writer of this piece, discussed the aftermath of this clicktivism campaign one year later and sadly reported that only 57 of the 270 captured girls were able to escape.  The many issues pertaining to clicktivism were discussed throughout this article.  It is argued that “organizations and activists must learn it is not enough to simply launch a hashtag or video meme and hope it goes viral.”

Both of these articles, as well as our blogs stance, agree on the benefits that clicktivism can bring to a social media campaign.  These articles also argue that clicktivism is simply not enough to create real world change.  Social media is an extremely powerful and possibly necessary tool for connecting causes with those who support them.  Achieving widespread awareness is a remarkable starting place for any campaign but online clicktivism must be backed with real world activism in order to be successful.

UNICEF 2013: A movement against clicktivism

Earlier in our blog’s weeks we shared a video from the UNICEF campaign ‘likes don’t save lives’. This article discusses the 2013 UNICEF campaign in further detail. UNICEF created ads that show how hitting the like button is not nearly enough to cause change. This campaign was not hugely popularized but sends a great message that corresponds with our argument: clicking the like button is not enough. UNICEF tried to stress that sitting behind a screen may make someone feel like they are helping, when in actuality the ‘like’ button doesn’t do anything at all.

wk 3.0.jpg
One of the most widely shared photos from this campaign. This powerful message was meant to get the message across about taking real life action in the world around us.

“Clicktivism: The Illusion of Involvement”

This video gives a small insight on the definition of clicktivism from a student’s perspective and why it may or may not work. The man in this video, Erik Salloum, takes the stance of being against clicktivism because he thinks it allows people to feel like they are taking action when in reality, they aren’t doing much at all. His arguments parallel ours in the sense that he feels that liking a facebook post, using a hashtag, or signing an online petition will not fix the issue at hand. Salloum feels that doing this gives people the illusion of involvement and rids them of their guilty conscious for not being active in the community. The one place where our arguments differ is that this student feels that clicktivism doesn’t do anything at all and is not a productive use of time or energy. We feel that clicktivism does a good job of spreading awareness, it just doesn’t do much to in terms of taking action and causing real life change.

Do we want awareness or change?

In the news website the Debrief, there is an article named “How Clicktivism Really Can Help #BringOuGirlsBack”. Sophia Wilkinson, contributing editor, looks at how clicktivism through hashtags can change things.

One of the arguments Wilkinson makes is that celebrities posting pictures supporting campaigns is beneficial to creating a change. While I agree with her point that it becomes a viral talking topic, I don’t agree that a simple picture can bring about change.

wk 3.jpg
Michelle Obama, former First Lady, uploaded a selfie of her holding the hashtag to social media to support the online campaign.

The common people look to our leaders, celebrities, and influencers to actually make a visible change because those are the people in power. In these cases we should be utilizing all of our available resources to the full extent. Yes, celebrities and leaders fall under the category of resources because they have the ability (and resources) to do something about it. The average citizen is using hashtags because they don’t have the same power as leaders and celebrities. While I think even the average citizen can do more than a hashtag, I definitely do not agree that a celebrity posting a picture is enough to support such a movement or make a difference when they can do much more.

The second argument that Wilkinson makes is that even if someone with a prominent name just wants to jump the bandwagon and say something for publicity, it would be beneficial. I understand her rationale to an extent because yes, it does create a greater awareness. But is that all we want?

According to a Newsweek article, two years later not one of the abducted girls was rescued from the start of the campaign and only 57 have escaped on their own. If these girls are escaping on their own, why can’t the military, who is trained for sophisticated rescue operations, save them? Celebrities could support troops to prioritize this mission.  157 girls were still missing a year later, and the article claims that 219 remain missing two years later after the kidnapping.

If you think you are helping #bringthegirlsback through your hashtag and online content, you’re mistaken. The clicktivism campaign helped make the issue an international one and bring awareness to even A-listers. But even those A-listers have only stopped at the send of the hashtag.

Clicktivism can help spread awareness, but it can not create a change. If we want to make a real change in the world, we must be willing to go beyond our online platforms.

Lack of Leadership and Tangible Change: An Affirmative View

The #Kony2012 campaign was released by Invisible Children in early March of 2012. #Kony2012 was a strategically thought out operation using various forms of promotions and persuasive actions. The campaign used a combination of many visuals such as images, logos, text, and videos in attempt to rewrite present-day strategies for engendering activism through social media, also known as, clicktivism. This post looks at two different articles that support our claim that clicktivism is only the beginning and more needs to be done for real change to occur.

While there were cons of #Kony2012, there were some pros that highlighted the initial benefits clicktivism can have on a campaign. An article on, “Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 campaign has pros, but also cons” by Carly Rothman, discusses some of these pros. Rothman went into detail about the key goals of KONY2012 being that it was an operation to put pressure on the American government to keep a small U.S. military presence on the ground Uganda to advise local leaders. The campaign was centered on a social media strategy built upon a viral video “that lays out the programs roots and visions”. This is a prime example exemplifying the benefits that social networking can bring to a situation. Within days of this video being launched it received nearly ten million views and celebrity endorsements from people like Justin Bieber and Oprah. The #Kony2012 campaign successfully showed the potential benefits clicktivism can have on an issue. The positive of all of this is the simple fact that spreading ideas is a good way to initiate the conversation of change but not necessarily create a tangible change itself.

Cons that have been made up over #Kony2012 include their corporate structure, their investment in the Ugandan army and their sanguinary mission to bring Joseph Kony to justice. #Kony2012’s investment in the Ugandan army was very troublesome. The accounts that they made that took over YouTube and Twitter were very troublesome as well. They created a culture of looting, exploitation and rape occurring on the frontlines of the army’s activities, both in their expeditionary work in the Central African Republic and their supposed protective work of the internally displaced refugee camps in Northern Uganda (Currie). This was discussed in an article on titled, “The Pros and Cons of KONY 2012” by Steve Currie in 2012. The issue in organizational structure this article discussed tends to be the demise of many clicktivism campaigns. There is no hierarchy of power in the social media world which is one major reason these campaigns don’t lead into tangible change in the world. The lack of hierarchical power prevents tangible change because there is no clear organization and relentless push for change. The combination of these two articles depicted how social media can create a rise in awareness of an issue but struggle to do anything of it rather accurately. It is possible that in the future of clicktivism we will see a rise in leadership or figure heads attached to these campaigns for it to begin supporting real activism.