All the social movements that exist today were born or are amplified by the internet. Activists and their organizations have flocked to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn in an attempt to make particular change to the status quo, but online activism is a double-edged sword, where immediate success can mean defeat. long-term. For grassroots activists on the ground, this can in fact be a constant source of frustration.
On social networks, where everyone’s voice is supposed to be welcome, visibility and immediate connection are priorities. “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution,” feminist icon Emma Goldman once said, long before the Internet was born. Today, a young woman is dancing on Instagram to the words of Olivia Rodrigo: “Good for you, you’re doing well without me, baby, like a damn sociopath!” while calling on brands that do the bare minimum and claim to be sustainable. Short, powerful messages generate interest, are easy to understand and connect with young people. For Noelia García-Estévez, a sociologist specializing in digital activism, while liking or posting a particular photo is “low-involvement activism,” at least it brings an issue to the fore and sometimes manages to bring it to the fore. public agenda.
Visual culture theorist Nicholas Mirzoeff, who spoke to the newspaper by phone from New York University, equates online protests with overthrowing symbols of colonialism: stepping stone, but it allows you to highlight social inequalities. he said. Sometimes post speed is a matter of life and death. Amnesty International was born in 1967 when its founder called on people around the world to write letters to the Portuguese government. [then under the autocratic leadership of Antonio Salazar] on the imprisonment of students. Its first digital campaign in 2002, with millions of signatures online, prevented two women from being stoned to death in Nigeria. For Maribel Tellado, responsible for the mobilization of Amnesty Spain, “digital activism does not kill or replace the star of the street, but makes it shine more”.
But some see the transience of social media posts and low user engagement as compromising systemic change. Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci, author of Twitter and tear gas, concluded in 2015 that activists today share a generalized frustration. Contemporary movements such as the sit-ins at Gezi Park in Turkey, the Arab Spring and the protest movement in Hong Kong, in which the internet has played a key role, have lost the benefits of careful long-term planning, according to the academic. In the anti-racial segregation movement in the United States in the 1960s, activists gathered for years to write pamphlets which they then distributed across the country through dozens of organizations. “When you see the March on Washington in 1963, when you look at this photo, where it’s the march where Martin Luther King gave his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech, you don’t just see a march and you don’t You don’t just hear a powerful speech, you also see the painstaking, long-term work behind it … and if you are in power you realize that you have to take the ability signaled by this walk, not just the walk, but the ability signaled by this walk, seriously, “Tufekci said in a TED talk.” On the other hand, when you watch Occupy’s [2011 protest movement] Global walks that were held in two weeks, you see a lot of discontent, but you don’t necessarily see teeth that can bite in the long run.
When political engagement becomes a matter of clicks, the power of the internet as an engine of change becomes a mirage
After the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis in 2020, Instagram was filled with black squares in a viral campaign known as #BlackOutTuesday. The idea was to educate users about racism with recommendations from books, essays, and documentaries, but these got lost amid a sea of black square icons posted by people who wanted to show solidarity with movement. Members of the Black Lives Matter collective have urged Instagram users to stop and debate has resurfaced about the extent to which people show solidarity on networks with situations they don’t understand, in order to make themselves relevant in the eyes of their followers.
In an age when advertising talks about circular economy, feminism and LGBTQ + rights, and activists are full-fledged media stars, appearing politically engaged online is all the rage. In Trick Mirror: Thoughts on Self-Illusion, American journalist Jia Tolentino defines expressions of solidarity on the internet as a performative listening mode: promotion. “Meanwhile, strikes or boycotts continue to exist on the fringes of society.
When political engagement becomes a matter of clicks, the internet’s power as an engine of change becomes a mirage, some warn. In 2010, Micah White, one of the founders of the anti-inequality movement Occupy Wall Street, wrote in The Guardian: “By promoting the illusion that surfing the web can change the world, clicktivism is to activism what McDonald’s is to a slow cooker. It may look like food, but the nutrients essential for life are long gone. Indian trans activist Zainab Patel said on the phone from New Delhi, India that while social movements require the work of both online ‘opinion’ and activists on the ground, there is a huge gap. between the conversations that take place in a virtual space and what happens in reality. The social media loudspeaker is limited to those who have internet access and speak certain languages, and one of the main problems, according to Patel, is identifying the views that matter. In every group there are voices that shout louder than the others, and on the internet the din of some commentators continually threatens to derail a real dialogue.
Jordan Flaherty, journalist and author of No more heroes, points out that social media can only simulate, not replace, empathy: “Empathy can only come from looking someone in the eye and hearing their voice in person, and that’s something. which any progressive or radical movement for change needs, ”he stressed. Likes make issues visible in seconds. But when actions are reduced to the virtual, they quickly fade. Strong, physical movements are needed to tackle climate change, inequality and authoritarianism.
For sociologist García-Estévez, the root of the debate lies in the eternal dichotomy between immediate success and lasting success: “We need to take the second step of critical thinking to achieve greater change. Perhaps the answer to achieving a deeper and more effective collective awareness to effect systemic change begins simply by stepping out onto the streets and helping our neighbors.