Is This ‘Clicktivism’?

Two.

Exactly two.

That’s the number of signatories I got in response to my invitation in my last entry (see ‘An Open Letter to Kim Hyun-woong, Minister of Justice, Government of the Republic of Korea’, July 16, and ‘A Heads-up About My Next Entry’, July 15). And one of them was my wife!

I got a few ‘like’s and a few ‘share’s, and my last entry was viewed by more visitors from more countries than any other entry I’ve written to this point.

Yes, that’s progress.

But I was hoping for more than that.

And as I wrote previously, I realized that there would be those who would feel uncomfortable adding their signatures, as it would possibly have placed them in jeopardy regarding their workplaces, education, or relationships. I have no issue at all with people in that type of situation.

All the same…

I know people who are ‘out’, either as LGBT+ persons or as allies, like me, whom I thought would surely sign – but didn’t.

And some might respond, ‘It’s a Korean issue; why not aim it at a Korean audience?’

Fair enough – I had one suggestion to have it translated into Korean, with the idea that it would have brought an increased response. I freely admit that I balked. I worried a tad about how it would impact my current work position (NB – neither blogging nor preaching make me an income at the moment), so I didn’t do it. I own my ‘pigeon-livered’-ness[1].

Yet, I know Koreans who understand English well enough that they could have read what I wrote and responded.

Now, I don’t wish to whinge, denounce, or complain. I’m treating this as my cock-up and no one else’s. This is an experience from which I have to learn something. The thing is, I’m not 100% sure what that ‘something’ is.

Is this what Facebook activism looks like? Is this what ‘slacktivism’ or ‘clicktivism’ looks like? Is this how it feels – that is, kind of empty?

I don’t want this to be an uninformed rant, but a disciplined reflection, so I have done some reading up on this, including a few scholarly articles. The exchange between Malcolm Gladwell[2] and Leo Mirani[3] in 2010 was insightful. Gladwell’s thesis was that traditional activism, as evidenced in the civil rights movement, was based largely on strong ties between individuals through personal connections and effective organization, whereas much of what he called ‘slacktivism’ was based on weak ties between people – this may be good for passing around information, but not good for ‘high-risk’ activism. In response, Mirani suggested that much Facebook activism is effective because – or perhaps, when – it can provide information which is ordinarily not provided by governments or mainstream media, leading to changes in people’s perceptions of what’s going on. Mirani addressed the ‘Facebook activism’ in Iran and Kashmir at the times as examples.

Henrik S Christensen also seemed to question critiques of ‘slacktivism’ in his 2011 paper[4], suggesting that at worst, there is no evidence of a negative effect of online activism upon traditional political action, and that there may be a weak positive correlation between the two. In addition, Ismael Pena-Lopez suggested in a 2012 paper[5] that much online activity around political action is simply another form of ‘casual politics’, the kind of informal passing on of information that happens in the offline world.

While there may be validity in the views expressed which cast doubt on Gladwell’s original assertions, there is some concern among organizations which have an online presence and use online tools to pursue acitivism. In a pair of papers (one co-authored[6] and one written solo[7]) Jonathan Obar explored how groups in the US and Canada used and perceived the use of online tools to advance activist goals. In both papers, while groups lauded the potential for online tools to accomplish outreach, create feedback loops, send out information in ‘real time’, and allow for cost savings in communication work, there was concern expressed about how the ‘weak ties’ inherent in online communication (using Gladwell’s term) may not be enough to inspire further action without some kind of personal connection. This concern seemed to be even more strongly expressed in the 2013 paper based on Canadian groups, as some groups openly expressed their concern about the effects of ‘slacktivism’, creating a group of people who can easily click ‘like’ but would never come out to a public event.

Now, I realize that my blog has not yet gotten the public exposure of blogs that are in significant portals like Patheos, but I thought that at least among the ones who did follow, that adding an electronic signature wouldn’t have been a great thing to ask. It wouldn’t have taken any more effort to do it here than to do it on Avaaz or Change.org (portals where I have signed petitions in the past). Maybe the people who read my blog are ‘the choir’ to which I preach; since they’re already positively oriented toward the acceptance of LGBT+ persons in communities of faith, it’s enough to ‘like’ and to ‘share’, to engage in that ‘informal political action’. Perhaps in the post-Pride slump, where people needed their time to recover from that activity, it was a bad time to ask for people to sign ‘yet something else’. Therefore, when I’ve been in reflective mode, I’ve asked myself, ‘Is there a time when I felt like the use of social media had real import for an imminently unfolding situation?’

I now realize I experienced something like that in the lead-up to the KQCF Opening Ceremony. While I’ve written about this more extensively in previous entries entries (see ‘Thinking and Action, Conscience and Witness (Parts One and Two), June 10 and 13, 2015), I’ll give a brief re-cap. The KQCF Organizing Committee, in the wake of the spread of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), decided to not have a full opening ceremony, but to broadcast it online, and asked people to stay home and watch online. However, conservative Christian groups had announced they would hold counter demonstrations at the time of the ceremony, regardless. The debate among differing points of view on the ‘LGBTQIA and Allies’ page was intense. Should we just follow the recommendations of the Organizing Committee and stay away? Would showing up be the wrong decision, causing Seoul City Government to cancel permits for the whole festival? Did we need to make a stand and have a presence anyway, no matter how small, to say ‘We are not afraid’?

I now realize that social media use was crucial to keep track of everything happening on the ground. It’s also true, though, that the people engaged in that debate were people with ‘strong ties’, who had great personal investment in what was transpiring. In my more recent experience, I was probably expecting too much of people with whom I don’t yet have such strong ties, and I should accept that it’s unrealistic for me to expect that a blog is a place where there will be stronger ties resulting in action – or if it can be such a place, those strong ties won’t be forged overnight.

Hence, I come from this experience having a more realistic view of what my blogging can accomplish, and that this place may not be the best place to pursue certain types of action. In the meantime, I’ve signed another online petition, this time for LGBT rights in Korea.

If I feel the need to do more, maybe I’ll write letters for Amnesty International or something…

[1] Thanks, Will. If you don’t know the reference, look up Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii.

[2] Gladwell, Malcolm (2010, 4 October). Annals of Innovation – Small Change – Why the revolution will not be tweeted.. The New Yorker [online]. Retrieved 26 July 2015 at http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/10/04/small-change-malcolm-gladwell.

[3] Mirani, Leo (2010, 2 October). Sorry, Malcolm Gladwell, the revolution may well be tweeted. In the guardian –‘Comment is free’ [online]. Accessed 26 July 2015 at http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/oct/02/malcolm-gladwell-social-networking-kashmir.

[4] Christensen, H S (2011, 7 February). Political activities on the internet: slacktivism or political participation by other means? First Monday (Peer Reviewed Journal on the Internet) 16/2 [online]. Retrieved 26 July 2015 at http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3336/2767. .

[5] Peña-López, I (2012) CASUAL POLITICS: FROM SLACKTIVISM TO EMERGENT MOVEMENTS AND PATTERN RECOGNITION. In Balcells Padullés, J., Cerrillo-i-Martínez, A., Peguera, M., Peña-López, I., Pifarré de Moner, M.J. & Vilasau Solana, M. (coords.) (2013). Big Data: Challenges and Opportunities: Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Internet, Law & Politics. Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona, 25-26 June, 2013 (Barcelona: UOC-Huygens Editorial); Paper 17 (pp.339-356). Accessed 26 July 2015 at http://ictlogy.net/articles/20130626_ismael_pena-lopez_-_casual_politics_slacktivism_emergent_movements_pattern_recognition.pdf.

[6] Obar, J A; Zube, P; and Lampe, C (2012). ADVOCACY 2.0: AN ANALYSIS OF HOW ADVOCACY GROUPS IN THE UNITED STATES PERCEIVE AND USE SOCIAL MEDIA AS TOOLS FOR FACILITATING CIVIC ENGAGEMENT AND COLLECTIVE ACTION. JOURNAL OF INFORMATION POLICY 2 (2012): 1-25. Accessed 26 July at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1956352.

[7] Obar, J A (2014). Canadian Advocacy 2.0: An Analysis of Social Media Adoption and Perceived Affordances by Advocacy Groups Looking to Advance Activism in Canada. Canadian Journal of Communication, 39/2: 211-233. Accessed 26 July 2015 at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2254742.

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