Clicktivism, also known as armchair activism, is the lazy variant of digital activism. With a mere “like” from a not-so-perilous region, you can share your support for a good cause from the privacy of a safe bubble. Clicktivism is support in numbers; it can be engaged in half-heartedly and can be suspected of being done as much for online show as it is for reasons of good intentions.
Since the early days of the Internet, when free speech, knowledge-sharing and free space for thought and debate were the expected benefits of the new digital space, digital activism has been something of a failed ideology. The Web was so rapidly colonised by companies for business opportunities, it seemed that the Internet needed time for activists to reclaim it as a safe space. Online activism has long been a niche space on the Web. The Arab Spring’s resurgence of social-media-driven activism drove masses to Tahrir Square and gave activists free space for sharing their personal broadcasts: rare examples of on-point digital activism amid a mainly opportunistic digital economy.
The sharing of support through clicktivism has positive and negative purposes. To start with the bad news: noticing and sharing injustices in the world in the form of news items to your friends and contacts is of course not that helpful. It is hardly the digital equivalent of a carefully planned political petition aimed at raising support. Models in which people support online causes by donating money to NGOs via clicktivist sharing on social media have not yet been successful. On the plus side, visibility is of course a numbers game, and there are plenty of examples in which the viral spread of a call for action through social media content has garnered a global online audience for an ideological project and led to global press coverage via traditional channels.
Perhaps the best clicktivism model is the challenge. It peaked in 2014 with the Ice Bucket Challenge meme, and its success lay in a clever “business model” that incorporated two very Internetty things: (1) visibility of support combined with peer pressure to participate and (2) fun. You got to participate in an online game (throw a bucket of ice water on yourself to declare your support for ALS research, film it on a webcam, upload it to social media channels); you got to do so in an original way and therefore one-up whoever else was doing it; you got to publicly dare friends and family (and even celebrities) to follow your lead and join in the fun. Participating made you look good: if you did it well, it made you look like a fun person; if you played your dare/challenge cards right, it could make you look like a glamorous and well-connected person. Enter the shame: participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge is a lot of work, and however elaborately or simply you want to do it, it always takes a degree of production value and a change of clothes. Doing all the work and not actually donating to the actual cause is, at that point, almost impossible. And it worked: the founders of the project raised millions for their cause.
Clicktivism is still very much present on social media but has died down a little. Even clicktivists can become snobbish, and the umpteenth regurgitation of the challenge model was finally just not new and shiny enough any more. It was just another hype. The best clicktivists today are likely sharing coverage of outrageous political situations from proper sources, showing that they are opost hype and knowledgeable about more respectable sources.