Our online world is being dominated by a philanthropic phenomenon — clicktivism. With a simple click, you can promote social justice issues, spread awareness and petition for change.
The best part? Minimal effort required.
Clicktivism is alive and well — it feeds off of sympathetic social media goers. In 2015, profile pictures morphed to the tricoloured France flag garnering support for the victims of the terrorist shooting; in 2018, people flocked to Twitter, spreading the hashtag #TakeAKnee to advocate against racism.
That being said, it’s easy to jump on the bandwagon and promote illegitimate campaigns — just look at this scandal this past summer.
The Sudan Meal Project claimed that for every repost, the Instagram account would donate a meal to a Sudanese civilian. The project had no real means of donating the food, yet people continued to share it on their stories. Some accounts went so far as to create a fake GoFundMe page.
Though it's easy to click or share, it's harder to distinguish which campaigns or issues deserve the support. A Pew Research Center study found in 2018 that 71 per cent of Americans agree social media makes people believe they’re making a difference, when in reality they aren’t.
Through clicktivism, it's easy to make content go viral, however it's not always the most effective means of change — Western University students can attest to this.
Western clubs utilize clicktivism as well, seeing as students are avid Instagram and Twitter users. It's not uncommon to see promotional executives share inspiring posts, or content advertising certain initiatives.
Preet Jassal, a second-year general science student, is an executive for Rotaract Western. She points to the disinformation aspect of online activism: sometimes online posts don’t accurately reflect real life. Statistics can be exaggerated, and images Photoshopped.
Despite Google’s and Twitter’s newly reformed policies to limit political ads, Facebook has refused to fact-check.
“I think we should do [clicktivism] in a more effective way,” Jassal says. “The way we do [clicktivism] should be more authentic."
She argues that clicktivism isn’t bad, but we should do more than liking a post, like volunteering, or attending protests.
“Online posts should show why [students are] doing it," she said.
In this light, clicktivism looks dark, with anonymous usernames sharing content that is fuelling an era of fake news. But activism through social media isn't all bad.
Alycia Badder, a second-year sociology student, is an executive member of the events committee for Girl Up Western. She offers a different perspective.
The club is known to share posts of inspirational women on their social media platforms.
“I think it’s a really great way of getting important names out there … It’s a weekly update of what women are doing in society. I feel like women are really underrepresented in media,” Badder says.
One critique of clicktivism is that it’s easy for its consumers to be passive. Badder pointed to the turnout of a recent event to demonstrate how she knows her content is being received by the online community, but she concedes that it is hard sometimes to know if people are actively engaging.
“I don’t think there’s any harm in wanting to create awareness,” she says. “It’s a great way to reach across the world. I’m more likely to participate in something if it’s online and convenient and quick.”
As students have an especially hectic schedule, their lives revolve around what is convenient — social media offers an outlet for those who want to inflict change but might not have the means.
In response to the misleading side of clicktivism, Badder says, “I hope people research what they share … If someone is passionate about it, they will.”
Online activism also allows the disabled community to actively engage in social action. Someone with social anxiety may find it difficult to go out in a crowd, or someone with physical limitations may have difficulty accessing a protest: the online realm opens another avenue to support causes they feel passionate about.
The #MeToo Movement gained traction in 2017 after sexual assault allegations arose against producer Harvey Weinstein. The online trend resulted in a national discussion about sexual violence.
So before you like a post while scrolling through your feed, or change your profile picture, know what you're doing.
Today's tech-oriented youth can deliver a punch via social media, and done right, it can make a difference.