[Marxism] Clicktivism is ruining leftist activism
binesi at gvtel.com
Fri Aug 20 09:33:31 MDT 2010
Here's another window on the thread "Can Technology Bring on a World
Wide Social Revolution?" I've long maintained that social movements,
such as gay liberation, are being sanitized, purified, tamed as part of
the trend toward marketizing them ("LGBT" being a perfect example of
capitalist market branding).
August 12, 2010
Cliktivism is ruining leftist activism
Reducing activism to online petitions, this breed of marketeering
technocrats damage every political movement they touch
Digital activists have gone online and adopted the logic of the
marketplace. Photograph: Stone/Getty
A battle is raging for the soul of activism. It is a struggle between
digital activists, who have adopted the logic of the marketplace, and
those organisers who vehemently oppose the marketisation of social
change. At stake is the possibility of an emancipatory revolution in our
The conflict can be traced back to 1997 when a quirky Berkeley,
California-based software company
known for its iconic flying toaster screensaver was purchased for $13.8m
(£8.8m). The sale financially liberated the founders, a left-leaning
husband-and-wife team. He was a computer programmer, she a
vice-president of marketing. And a year later they founded an online
political organisation known as MoveOn <http://www.moveon.org>. Novel
for its combination
<http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/12.09/moveon_pr.html> of the
ideology of marketing with the skills of computer programming, MoveOn is
a major centre-leftist pro-Democrat force in the US. It has since been
heralded as the model for 21st-century activism.
The trouble is that this model of activism uncritically embraces the
ideology of marketing. It accepts that the tactics of advertising and
market research used to sell toilet paper can also build social
movements. This manifests itself in an inordinate faith in the power of
metrics to quantify success. Thus, everything digital activists do is
meticulously monitored and analysed. The obsession with tracking clicks
turns digital activism into clicktivism.
Clicktivists utilise sophisticated email marketing software that brags
<http://www.actionkit.com> of its "extensive tracking" including "opens,
clicks, actions, sign-ups, unsubscribes, bounces and referrals, in total
and by source". And clicktivists equate political power with raising
these "open-rate" and "click-rate" percentages, which are so dismally
low that they are kept secret. The exclusive emphasis on metrics results
in a race to the bottom of political engagement.
Gone is faith in the power of ideas, or the poetry of deeds, to enact
social change. Instead, subject lines are A/B tested and messages vetted
for widest appeal. Most tragically of all, to inflate participation
rates, these organisations increasingly ask less and less of their
members. The end result is the degradation of activism into a series of
petition drives that capitalise on current events. Political engagement
becomes a matter of clicking a few links. In promoting the illusion that
surfing the web can change the world, clicktivism is to activism as
McDonalds is to a slow-cooked meal. It may look like food, but the
life-giving nutrients are long gone.
Exchanging the substance of activism for reformist platitudes that do
well in market tests, clicktivists damage every genuine political
movement they touch. In expanding their tactics into formerly
untrammelled political scenes and niche identities, they unfairly
compete with legitimate local organisations who represent an authentic
voice of their communities. They are the Wal-Mart of activism:
leveraging economies of scale, they colonise emergent political
identities and silence underfunded radical voices.
Digital activists hide behind gloried stories of viral campaigns and
inflated figures of how many millions signed their petition in 24 hours.
Masters of branding, their beautiful websites paint a dazzling
self-portrait. But, it is largely a marketing deception. While these
organisations are staffed by well-meaning individuals who sincerely
believe they are doing good, a bit of self-criticism is sorely needed
from their leaders.
The truth is that as the novelty of online activism wears off, millions
of formerly socially engaged individuals who trusted digital
organisations are coming away believing in the impotence of all forms of
activism. Even leading Bay Area clicktivist organisations are finding it
increasingly difficult to motivate their members to any action
whatsoever. The insider truth is that the vast majority, between 80% to
90%, of so-called members rarely even open campaign emails. Clicktivists
are to blame for alienating a generation of would-be activists with
their ineffectual campaigns that resemble marketing.
The collapsing distinction between marketing and activism is revealed in
the cautionary tale of TckTckTck <http://www.tcktcktck.org>, a purported
climate change organisation with 17 million members. Widely hailed
as an innovator of digital activism, TckTckTck is a project of Havas
the world's sixth-largest advertising company. A corporation that uses
advertising to foment ecologically unsustainable overconsumption, Havas
bears significant responsibility for the climate change TckTckTck decries.
As the folly of digital activism becomes widely acknowledged, innovators
will attempt to recast the same mix of marketing and technology in new
forms. They will offer phone-based <http://www.mobilecommons.com/>,
and augmented reality <http://theleakinyourhometown.wordpress.com/>
alternatives. However, any activism that uncritically accepts the
marketisation of social change must be rejected. Digital activism is a
danger to the left. Its ineffectual marketing campaigns spread political
cynicism and draw attention away from genuinely radical movements.
Political passivity is the end result of replacing salient political
critique with the logic of advertising.
Against the progressive technocracy of clicktivism, a new breed of
activists will arise. In place of measurements and focus groups will be
a return to the very thing that marketers most fear: the passionate,
ideological and total critique of consumer society. Resuscitating the
emancipatory project the left was once known for, these activists will
attack the deadening commercialisation of life. And, uniting a global
population against the megacorporations who unduly influence our
democracies, they will jettison the consumerist ideology of marketing
that has for too long constrained the possibility of social revolution.
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