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.

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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.

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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.

Clicktivism in Youth: A Refutation

In the article titled “Kony 2012 Shows The Power Of Youth And Social Media,” author Iman Baghai explores the idea that social media in the #Kony2012 campaign helped propel the cause forward. He claims that social media drastically helped shed light on the situation and bring awareness to the cause. Baghai also speaks to the idea that because this movement has been so large on social media, youth have been greatly involved. Youth involvement when it comes to political issues in the United States has historically been low. This movement occurred almost solely on social media which allowed it to reach the younger audience, causing greater involvement for them. This campaign’s use of clicktivism brought attention to the issue in a dramatic way and incorporated youth involvement, but did it actually create a change?

#Kony2012 has reinforced unhelpful narratives about child soldiers, and simplified an extremely complex conflict into something easily understandable for the youth of America. But did change actually ensue due to this rise in internet activism? While clicktivism can help bring attention to issues, it doesn’t necessarily work to create real life change. We believe that even though clicktivists did assist in spreading this story rapidly it was just another example as to how false sense of change can spread. The idea of watching a video or clicking a link and signing a petition doesn’t do nearly enough to actually create change.

This movement was easy to be involved with because it was heavily promoted through social media platforms and all you had to do was show support by sharing a link or posting a status. Doing these things give people a sense of achievement and involvement in a cause. By re-tweeting a hashtag, people think they’ve helped, and move on to something else in their life feeling guilt free. Most social media campaigns like #Kony2012 demand short, emotive campaign material. In other words, if you “like” something or change your profile picture, then you are shaping your online identity in a particular way by affiliating yourself with this cause. This is something people can easily do to make themselves seem like they are truly involved in a cause when in fact they haven’t really done much of anything. Overall, while clicktivism can be good to bring attention to a cause, it doesn’t create the tangible difference. Clicktivism doesn’t nearly compare to taking hands on action in person.

“The Structure of Online Activism”

Kevin Lewis, Kurt Gray, and Jens Meierhenrich analyze the Save Darfur campaign to learn about the growing online social movement community. They found that “Facebook conjured an illusion of activism rather than facilitating the real thing”.

“In other words, rather than upholding the notion of social media as gateways to civic engagement, our findings support the no- tion that “the fast growing support and diffusion of protest enabled by the Internet is followed by an even faster decline in commitment” (Van Laer 2010:348)” (Lewis, Kevin, Kurt Gray, and Jens Meierhenrich, 2014).

This hard research supports our belief that clicktivism is not a proper form of activism and does not bring about real change in the world. Read more about their study and findings here.

“Beyond Clicktivism: Why Political Change Requires Risk”

A CreativeTimesReports addresses the required risk for political change to occur and the setbacks from simple clicktivism. The Yes Men support our belief that clicktivism helps support spread a message a content but actual change requires real, physical risks. Read more here: http://creativetimereports.org/2015/06/12/acting-up-in-meatspace-limits-of-clicktivism/.