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clicktivism

noun [uncountable]

the use of the Internet as a tool for influencing public opinions or achieving political or social aims

clicktivist

noun [countable]

'Clicktivism, like monthly donation services, has the effect of making us feel morally weighty without ever having left the house.'

Vancouver Observer 19th June 2013

'Who's afraid of the English Defence League (EDL) clicktivists? Well the police for a start, who decided to undertake a mass pre-emptive arrest of 179 EDL supporters … for supposedly planning an "attack" …'

The Independent 16th November 2011

If you feel passionate about a cause and want to mobilize others into sharing your concerns, what better vehicle to spread the word about them than via the Internet? Setting up an online petition and gathering thousands of supporters overnight seems infinitely preferable to wandering the streets with a clipboard and collecting a handful of signatures.

the terms clicktivism and clicktivist have taken on rather pejorative overtones, and the concept they denote is often considered just another form of slacktivism

It's this philosophy, the application of the Internet as a tool for raising awareness on issues and soliciting the support of others, which underpins a phenomenon now dubbed clicktivism.

Clicktivism is when political or social activists use online communication, largely social media such as Twitter, Facebook etc, to galvanize protests. In principle this could mean any number of things – a way of communicating details about a real-world demonstration for example, and thereby rallying many others to come along and join in. In this sense then, clicktivism is just a form of activism in which conventional methods of communication – telephone, word of mouth etc – are replaced by social media.

In practice however, clicktivism is often confined to the virtual universe, so that supporters of a particular cause, correspondingly dubbed clicktivists, don't actually do anything beyond touching a keyboard and/or mouse. Organizations employing clicktivism often quantify their success in terms of the number of people who did nothing more than 'click' on their petition, people who probably didn't write letters, donate money, change their habits, or even leave the room. Because of this, the concept of clicktivism has proved rather controversial, with some critics likening it to online marketing campaigns in which messages are adapted to make responses as effortless as possible, so that the number of 'clicks' is maximized. This, it's argued, effectively reduces social action to a list of email addresses, rather than a group of active, engaged people.

In the light of such criticism, the terms clicktivism and clicktivist have taken on rather pejorative overtones, and the concept they denote is often considered just another form of slacktivism. The latter expression describes forms of protest which require minimal effort and allow individuals to feel or claim that they've supported a cause, when in fact they have had very little or no personal involvement with it.

Background – clicktivism

Clicktivism is of course a blend of words click and activism. Its popularization is sometimes associated with US editor and activist Micah White, a key player in the thinking behind the Occupy anti-consumerist protests. White is highly critical of digital activism, as clearly illustrated in this article on clicktivism written for the Guardian newspaper in 2010.

The word click dates back to the 16th century, possibly inspired by the Old French clique, referring to 'the tick of a clock'. The figurative sense of 'liking someone immediately' didn't appear until 1915 and the computer sense emerged several decades later, following the invention of the computer mouse in the 1960s. Clicktivism is just one of several neologisms which feature the latter sense, including click fraud (dishonestly clicking on online ads in order to generate a charge per click), clickprint (a regular pattern of Internet use identifying an individual) and clickjacking (maliciously forcing an Internet user to click on hidden links).

A related coinage in the domain of activism is the term hacktivist, a blend of hack (in the sense of unauthorized computer access) and activist, which describes a person who changes or manipulates information on the Internet in order to convey a political message.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 22nd October 2013.

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