In Praise of Clicktivism | Public Seminar

Final April thirty-thousand staff from Cease & Store, a New England-based grocery chain, went on strike to protest cuts to their wages and benefits. After eleven days of direct motion, representatives from the United Food and Business Staff International Union reached a settlement with the billion-dollar chain on April 22. The deal was vital. Not solely did it fulfill each demand of the union, nevertheless it insured that the resolution to the strike acquired nationwide consideration from Democratic presidential candidates together with Sanders, Warren, and Biden.

The day the strike began, April 11, I shared a Facebook publish from the Massachusetts AFL-CIO reminding viewers to “Stand in solidarity and remind your friends and family to respect the picket.” I was residence in Massachusetts the following day, and visited my hometown Stop & Shop when one of my mother and father needed to refill a prescription (the strikers reassured us that we have been honoring the picket line so long as we didn’t buy food). I briefly marched within the line till I needed to depart, and the employees appreciated my small gesture. That afternoon, I shared one other image on Fb, this one from a gaggle referred to as “Support Stop & Shop Workers,” which outlined the information: the company makes billions in income, but they needed to slash take-home pay, retirement benefits, and healthcare for cashiers, stockers, and deli staff. The results of this uncooked deal would have been larger poverty and worse service.

I had no illusions about turning the world the wrong way up through the use of Facebook. However it’s putting to me that this manner of online activity — referred to as “slacktivism” by its detractors — faces legitimate so many critiques. Which is not to say that each one of these criticisms are invalid. The Quebec activist Nora Loreto, as an example, wrote in 2017 that Facebook “offers activists the feeling of contributing to social progress, while obscuring the fact that the platform cannot stand-in for real-life, on-the-ground organizing.” There’s fact in what Loreto argues.

The question of slacktivism, where on-line media substitutes for bodily efforts, is an actual one in our increasingly social-media-driven age. So, I proceed to marvel: can slacktivism be an effective organizing device, or are staff better off without it?

Regardless of prolific digital campaigns that increase consciousness for strikes, resembling that surrounding the current Uber/Lyft strike for example, it’s troublesome to escape a nagging sense of their inefficacy. In this example we’d critique certain actions, or rhetorical methods, as insufficiently radical and slacktivism as simply that – a type of laziness. And if digital activism solely corresponds to passivity perhaps the critics are right. The issue with such criticisms is that they presume a dichotomy: one is both a slacker or a radical. However dwelling human beings are not often extremists. Extra typically we’re caught someplace within the middle, in between; on our method toward detachment – or engagement.

This is the reason slacktivism – or “clicktivism” as we’d less-pejoratively name it – is a suitable type of protest. Because it builds up information and affinities. As a result of it helps individuals take sides. Clicktivism only will increase the prospect that folks discover the motivation or time to participate in on-the-ground actions, akin to a strike, an indication, or an electoral marketing campaign. What critics of clicktivism fail to bear in mind is that individuals are not all of the sudden extra efficacious the moment they cease sharing Fb posts. Contrary to clicktivism’s critics – who overlook that at this time’s actions must start by addressing themselves to people who find themselves already individuated by neoliberalism – on-line engagement does not should turn out to be a wrench within the gears of the collective.


One such critic is Jodi Dean. In her 2017 e-book Crowds and Get together (which was reviewed by Public Seminar) she re-envisions a small-c communist Get together because the agent necessary to dismantle capitalism. She participated in the Occupy Wall Road protests of 2011, and observed how the overall assembly, which made selections by consensus, devolved into a dangerous individualism. When the gang couldn’t comply with occupy Washington Square Park the call-and-response chant turned an individualized mantra: “No one can decide for you…Everyone is an autonomous individual.”

Dean argues that this slogan, which fragmented the Occupy motion, at the moment prevents the Left from organizing effectively towards capital. The form of the Get together is important for crowds to dedicate their energies towards a revolutionary plan; in any other case the assembled will lose focus and fizzle out, like Occupy had. By making the person the engine of political wrestle Dean argues that we reach an impasse: “a failure to build a concentrated political force with the sustained capacity to confront and replace the capitalist mode of production.” Crowds can’t produce a system-wide political reckoning if they are no more organized than a music pageant. Strikes comparable to those described above are much more organized: they make demands, shut ranks, and get results.

Individualism is simply as prevalent with at the moment’s social media platforms, and Dean believes that on-line activism is a ruse for exactly this purpose. In her 2005 article “Communicative Capitalism”, Dean argued that tech corporations sell us on the “fantasy of participation,” the potential that “our actions online are politically significant, that they make a difference.” Contrary to the techno-optimists’ fantasy that the Web is radically democratic, Dean asserts that digital platforms are “immediately political,” that we end up ignoring how Web tools similar to net radio or open supply coding aren’t simply means for activism, however already-embedded “within the brutalities of global capital.”

One other Occupy participant, Micah White, gives comparable critiques from the attitude of constructing electoral energy. Recognized for co-producing the thought of occupying Wall Road in Adbusters magazine, White believes, like Dean, that Occupy Wall Road was a “constructive failure” as a result of it gives an essential lesson for activists sooner or later. He has since written The End of Protest and founded a digital university referred to as the Activist Graduate Faculty. The latter uses on-line schooling to help individuals turn into better conventional organizers, not clicktivists. Clicktivism, in accordance with White, not only fragments individuals, but in addition “uncritically accepts the marketization of social change.” Clicktivists, he says, are chasing the identical analytics as tech giants or Instagram influencers: likes, shares, feedback, and web page views. To resolve this, White shares Dean’s prescription for the Get together type: “social movements need to start learning the behaviors associated with progressive political parties — which would be winning elections, putting forth candidates and campaigning.” The End of Protest not solely rejects clicktivism, but in addition any tactic that merely aims for consideration and consciousness. (Therefore why one section of a chapter is subtitled “No More Marches.”)

There isn’t any doubt that White and Dean’s admonitions are essential reminders for many who, like me, partake in clicktivism. Whether we comment on the information or share a petition, we must keep in mind that none of this can be a substitute for displaying up on the streets, supporting a strike, and even profitable elections. Nonetheless, the pressure of these critiques is much less about abandoning digital platforms writ giant and more about embracing a confluence of traditional and digital techniques. Clicktivism shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of political activity, however neither is holding a sign or blocking a freeway; no movement tactic is inherently liberating, or affectively resonant, without the right relationship between ends and means. Crowds and Get together builds upon this level by suggesting that, while Twitter and Fb are manifestations of capital, actions on these platforms can generate “the affective intensities associated with crowds – cascade effects, enthusiasm, band-wagoning, contagion and imitation.” The truth of this century is that digital platforms are an important means by which people get news about each current occasions and activists’ occasions, info that can produce new impacts and personal commitments.


One instance of these affects in motion may be seen from the outpouring of on-line help for the “NoDAPL” motion. In 2016, Native American water protectors challenged the Dakota Entry Pipeline, an oil pipeline which was set to cross native burial land and threaten to pollute native consuming water.

As tons of allies showed up to help the native protestors at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, many Facebook customers “checked-in” at Standing Rock as properly, hoping by so doing to disrupt the digital surveillance of protestors by regulation enforcement. Whereas North Dakota’s police insisted that they were not using Fb to watch and goal protesters, Sue Evans, spokesperson for the Standing Rock Sioux, stated that the check-ins reflected mistrust of the native authorities repressing dissent. Although the check-ins might not have mattered in the long run, Facebook customers have been expressing solidarity with activists on-the-ground who have been very engaged with social media. If the “water protectors” might only attraction to individuals physically in Standing Rock, and not to a wider viewers, there might not have been sufficient clamor for President Obama to halt the pipeline (though Trump renewed it). Definitely it’s right to say, as would Dean and White, that the DAPL would have confronted no impediment had the only activists been clicktivists. But this was not the case. As an alternative, it was the confluence of traditional and digital protest techniques that made NoDAPL a historic motion.

Content creators have to be self-aware sufficient to know that they don’t seem to be dismantling buildings by themselves, but Dean and White overlook how the technologies of communicative capitalism have to be retooled for radical ends by any progressive social gathering that hopes to win. Ever since Barack Obama’s trailblazing use of digital campaigning, activist candidates should now develop into digital activists. By way of social media, candidates and parties can management the narrative by releasing policy proposals that impress new supporters, demand attention from current leaders, or push a party additional Left. The utility of social media is even obvious for protest candidates who do not intend to win a nomination, akin to Alaska’s Mike Gravel. The former senator intends to succeed in sixty-five-thousand donors so that he can critique imperialism on the Democratic presidential debate stage. Additionally, Consultant Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has skillfully used Twitter and Instagram to shift nationwide consideration to issues ranging from the Inexperienced New Deal to the extent that congressional staffers are underpaid. AOC is a legislator, not a clicktivist, and yet Dean and White would have to argue that her use of social media is for naught. On its own clicktivism just isn’t a revolution, however revolutions must navigate the applied sciences that constitute our every day surroundings.


One organization which understands that is Means TV, a “post-capitalist streaming platform” founded by Naomi Burton and Nick Hayes. Relatively than sell us a new product, their objective is to mobilize the energies we already give to capitalism’s streaming providers for socialist tasks. The web site has a spread of videos, where contributors standing in front of a minimalistic white background, or asking questions on the street, make the case towards capitalism. Although we watch their content as individuals, the message behind the content asks us to assume and dream of larger options.

Burton and Hayes keenly understand how a viral message might be affectively contagious: they designed the hit video that helped propel AOC to victory. One might easily say that Burton and Hayes are irredeemably trapped within communicative capitalism or that they only need extra viewers bought on the “fantasy of participation.” However this line of thought would overlook that, until new political organizations come up, critiques of digital media are equally relevant to analog activism. No individual can jumpstart the Social gathering on their own, whether or not they share a Means TV video or manage a strike. The latter includes more effort, and deserves extra plaudits, yet the 2 mediums usually are not at cross functions.

Though it might all the time be harmful for movements to interact with communicative capitalism – and its attendant issues of individualist fragmentation, or neutralization by tech giants – actions must seize the means of digital production to attract extra individuals, funding, and press consideration. Clicktivism isn’t a silver bullet, but neither is it “selling out.” Means TV, as an example, has its own platform and refuses company funding, however I heard about them first from Facebook. That kind of publicity nonetheless issues.

Even Leon Trotsky, writing for Liberty journal in 1935, hoped that “the science of publicity and advertising” would help america persuade middle-class individuals to reject capitalism. In fact, capitalism remains in 2019, but it’s clicktivists who know that the revolution have to be publicized.

Adam Tomasi shall be a graduate scholar in Historical past at Northeastern University. He acquired his BA in History and Communication at Wake Forest College (’19), and competed on the intercollegiate debate circuit.

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