Arendt and ‘Clicktivism’


We all have that friend on Facebook who persistently posts feminist articles, along with a self-righteous statement, cleverly crafted to reflect their colorful personality and hint their political views. Or that one Tumblr user who will not stop reblogging pictures of sad puppies to ‘raise awareness’ for animal abuse.  ‘All you need to do is click to donate just $5 to the [insert name here] Foundation.’  We usually  ignore it and scroll down to the next post.

Often times we see posts in social media about war, political injustice, abuse and violence our first reaction is the obvious  empathy and disturbance followed by a frantic youtube search for cute animals.  The internet gives us the opportunity to gawk at, shudder, and then subsequently flee from the situation whereas fifty years ago there was no such escape – the news was simply television, radio, and newspaper. God forbid, life gets out of hand and you can bury your nose in a book. The internet has nurtured our complacency and allowed for individual conscience to flourish. On social media we seek to assuade our conscience by reblogging, reposting, commenting, etc to give an impression of our compassion to the issue, however it does not serve much purpose than to further circulate the information and spread the word. Not to deny the importance of  ‘raising awareness,’ but seldom does recognition of an issue push for public political action.

Take the KONY 2012 campaign. Thanks to social media the attention it recieved was immense and had potential to be a huge turn out for international actvism. Millions of people watched the campaign video, pledged to get involved in ‘Invisible Children’ fundraisers  and so on. However the presentation and poor organization of information prevented the campaign from leaving the internet. What’s left of KONY 2012 are the stickers and  a whole lot of controversy.

Or, more recently, the ALS ice bucket challenge. How many people who did the ice bucket challenge actually donated to the cause? Many who doused themselves did so or had to donate $100 to the ALS Foundation. So, yes, indeed it ‘raised awareness’  – and all the wealthy celebrities got involved and donated most of the money. But this is the ultimate example of collective conscience. We douse ourselves for ‘visibility’ – we are feeding our own egos while simultaneously supposedly helping this cause. I am certainly not one to argue against the effectiveness or decry the effect/effort put into this internet movement. This is simply to point out the danger of ‘click-to-donate’  activism.

Whatever the cause is there is the common phenomenon of the information spreading like wildfire and then a quick burnout; no activism seen outside the computer screen. There is a visible international response  but no follow up, therefore rendering public politics innefective. Therefore much of our ‘clicktivism’ is us acting in compassion and/or perhaps conscience, yet rarely do we decide to take matters beyond making an online donation. “Here, as elsewhere, conscience is unpolitical. It is not primarily interested in the world where the wrong is committed or in the  consequences that the wrong will have for the future of the world.” [Arendt p60].  What Arendt states here is that there is that conscience and the duty of being a good citizen are separate. Being a good citizen would require political action and the functioning of individuals in concert to represent a cause.

The problem that lies in ‘clicktivism’ or social media activism is that it does not involve genuine engagement in poitics in context of participation and public demonstration. Participatory democracy, in which individual citizens directly make political decisions about policies relevant to them, is becoming obsolete thanks to social media. Thus it  further damages politics by allowing private consumption/advertising and the propigation of the citizens personal beliefs rather than promoting facts. The basis of many social media interactions are emotional, which allows for apolitical activity such as conscience  to continue. Conscience is then manipulated in  a way that prioritizes  consumption before conscientious objection.




4 Responses to “Arendt and ‘Clicktivism’”

  1. Kamalia Says:

    I’ve noticed this trend before with all those online petition sites that I often see shared through websites like Facebook and Tumblr. “Sign this petition to help stop XXX/make the government do XXX/etc.” it has always made me wonder how much the people who sign actually involve themselves about the cause outside of signing and sharing. What’s more, do these petitions even go anywhere? Do the people who the petitions are supposed to affect even look at them (or care)? The “click and share” method seems, at least to me, to be increasingly less productive.

    • givenarnold Says:

      I feel the same way about those online petitions you are mentioning. I believe the only usefulness they bring is to provide a solid number of people who supposedly support a petition. But, other than that, providing your electric signature has no true political meaning. Here is a link explaining one of these petition starter websites to anyone interested.

  2. givenarnold Says:

    I think your point that people seem to be only active through indirectly supporting cause is an interesting one. However, I think its certainly worth noticing that recently many people are still willing to actively protest, even when consequences for doing so risk being severe. Take the #blacklivesmatter movement for example. It certainly has a larger number of supporters on the web, but many are out protesting on the streets daily. So in this case the publicity and social media have helped REAL Arendtian political action occur.

    I still agree that with many cases people are far from taking action when they like a political movement on Facebook, but sometimes those likes help bring about the real political action.

  3. akolot Says:

    Until the recent coverage of the Ferguson Protests/#blacklivesmatter there appeared to be very little activity outside of the ALS challenge which, while it raised awareness, it did not encourage everyday people to make much of a sacrifice – that is, not until the celebrities got involved.

    You have a point .I realize I wrote this post several days before I saw live footage of the Ferguson Protests [around Nov 25th]. With the recent turn of events in the movement there has been a huge increase in activity – a march in NYC happened last weekend, the online presence of the movement has made a significant impact. Recently celebrities have been beginning to make statements and taking action in the movement. [].

    This is also another incredibly powerful response to both the ALS challenge and #justiceformichaelbrown.

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