The tumultuous events in countries such as Tunisia and Egypt in 2011 have been called Twitter revolutions or Facebook revolutions, though the role of these social networks in shaping political events in these countries has been disputed.
Commentators have taken the same view about other online protests, arguing that adding your name to an electronic petition or sending out a tweet in support of some cause is an effortless activity that makes you feel good without achieving anything useful. This view was forcefully put forward in October 2010 by Malcolm Gladwell in an article in the New Yorker, “Why the revolution will not be tweeted”.
Though clicktivism has been appearing as a derogatory collective term for such purely symbolic actions, oddly it began life several years ago as a positive term for the online support of good causes and has only recently flipped sense.
Newspaper articles particularly refer to clicktivism in order to compare it unfavourably with groups that employ networking sites to take disciplined and strategic action. One notable example is UK Uncut, which carries out peaceful high-street protests, such as occupations of bank branches in protest against bankers’ bonuses.
“Clicktivism” has become the common, derogatory catch-all for online protest. But it’s not always a fair one. Allying yourself to a cause online may be easy, but that’s not to say it accomplishes nothing.
The Independent, 1 Feb. 2011.
The latest clicktivists are smart, media-savvy, highly engaged with social media, accessible, usually only loosely organised, and well aware of the pitfalls of clicktivism.
Evening Standard, 17 Jan. 2011.