From online petitions to Twitter rants, many young people take to the virtual world to call for change these days, but are they just shouting into the wind or can online protest really make a difference?
It has been called the TikTok war. Ever since the war in Ukraine began in February 2022, those of us living outside of its borders have experienced it largely through social media. President Volodymyr Zelensky made compelling viral videos; the pop star Dua Lipa called on her 80 million Instagram followers to make charitable donations; and millions more added the Ukrainian flag to their profile pictures.
We are living through an era of digital activism. But… does all this posting really help? Do our retweets and hashtags translate into real change, or even meaningful engagement? And can there be downsides to getting political on social media platforms?
Clicktivism: The argument against
The Oxford English Dictionary defines clicktivism as: “the practice of supporting a political or social cause via the internet by means such as social media or online petitions, typically characterised as involving little effort or commitment.”
It gets worse. Ever heard the term slacktivism? According to the Urban Dictionary, it is: “the self-deluded idea that by liking, sharing, or retweeting something you are helping out”.
“There’s a lot of research underway on digital activism in all its forms,” says Dr Paul Marsden, a chartered psychologist at the University of the Arts London, who conducts research on technology and wellbeing.