Studying pros and cons of digital activism
Digital activism, or cyber activism, is defined as the use of Internet tools, especially of social media platforms like blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc, to promote certain ideas and gather support around certain causes.
Some of these causes are international, they call for that distinct human nature to appear and gather around. The abduction of schoolgirls in Nigeria can be cited as a good example. Within a few days, the hashtag supporting the case (#BringBackOurGirls) has been tweeted and re-tweeted millions of times. A lot of political figures and celebrities jumped in the stream, calling for justice, alerting for human trafficking and discussing women rights.
The other type of causes is usually ideological; promoting certain ideas and ethical codes. Such issues stir controversies and randomly lead to deep reflection and fruitful discussions.
However, there is one theme that mostly all digital activism causes fall under; they are subjective. They appear on the public radar once certain celebrities or influential people adopt them. Interestingly, it is a mechanism so similar to how classical media functions; there are few “subjective” reports that make the headlines.
Boko Haram, the group behind the abduction of girls in Nigeria, again serves as a good example. While the group caught world attention because of the innocent girls involved, similar cases have never been able to gather such momentum because simply influential people did not highlight them.
What the Syrian kids are facing for years now is an obvious example. That does not make digital activism inherently good or bad, some of the causes it raises deserve to be noticed and discussed, but it suggests that digital activism can be misleading.
And almost like everything in the world, it has its advantages and disadvantages. It is easy to make it as a digital activist, as it is just a few clicks away. It transcends barriers and could reach audience beyond your wildest dreams. But its major flaw is that it is shallow. It lacks the depth of a well-constructed structure of beliefs and ideas. It lacks vision and even if started with one, it would fade away over some time.
Some cases start with good intentions, but soon after, people with no deep understanding of the cause would start gathering around, turning the scene into clashes of ideologies and debates, slowly drifting from the cause that started it all.
However, digital activism still seems to be flourishing, as social media networks themselves are getting popular. That is why a lot of researchers are trying to figure it out, to determine its characteristics and understand its impacts. One of those serious researches is the “Digital Activism Research Project” run by Philip Howard, the professor of communication at the University of Washington in Seattle. The project aims to decipher and understand the “potential and pitfalls of civic engagement using digital media.” In its recent reports, the project found that campaigns launched against governments are more successful than those meant to attack businesses. The reason could be that governments are usually late to understand and deal with social media networks, as the report also indicated.
In few words, digital activism is an extension of the age of the Internet and social networks, it submits to the same rules of the game that applies on most of Internet age issues. In my opinion, it is a good tool to spread ideas, to create awareness and start discussions, but it seems far away from forming beliefs that are truly needed. Had Gandhi or Mandela taken to digital activism alone, they would not have made such huge impacts.
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view