Digital Activism versus Traditional Activism

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One may suspect that a lot of confusion might be avoided in debates such as those listed at the bottom if those participating in the debates chose to compare like with like. Digital activism is a communication activity. Digital activism is really about spreading messages, consciousness raising, and other communication activities. Its counterpart in “traditional activism” would consist of activities such as posting flyers, making posters, producing newsletters, circulating petitions, giving radio interviews, community television, speeches and petitions…not street protests, sit ins, blockades, pelting stones and Molotov cocktails, getting beaten and arrested by the police. (Perhaps the two might be confused because of the number of “digital activists” in the Middle East who have been imprisoned and beaten for their online information campaigns.) Hacking and other forms of cyber warfare might be the digital counterpart of street protests, but this is not considered in the debates linked to below.

Also left out of the debates is any focused discussion on why “activism” is being separated out from other oppositional activities, such as armed revolution, only to lament that activism (usually represented as the classic street protest) often fails to produce the changes sought (just like digital activism, which for some reason is more readily likened to slacktivism). Yes, it is very easy to merely click “like” in Facebook; likewise, it is just as easy to merely wear a button or patch on one’s jacket. It is difficult to understand why signing a paper petition is less “slacktivist” than signing an electronic petition.

At some point, when we get past the intellectual cul-de-sacs brought on by technological faddism, we might have a discussion that is just focused on activism, less obsessed with the medium or having to apologize for using electronic media.


About Maximilian C. Forte

I am a professor of anthropology at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. My areas of research and teaching interest are centered in Political Anthropology, with a focus on imperialism, neoliberalism and globalization, nationalism, democracy, and the international political economy of knowledge production.
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11 Responses to Digital Activism versus Traditional Activism

  1. Pingback: Debates in Digital Activism: Update | Political Activism and the Web

  2. Dear Maximillian,
    Interesting post! On my own blog ( I have also collected some examples of cyberactivism.

    I agree that the objectives of activism are important but I also think that studying cyberactivism as one of the potential tactics activist groups can deploy is relevant. When do activist groups turn to what tactic? Which characteristics determine their selection (apart from some opportunism, probably)?

    Distinguishing between electronic boycotts or naming and shaming versus hacktivism indeed is relevant: for the first examples you need a lot of support, for the latter you need only a few highly skilled persons (cf. the logic of numbers as della Porta and Diani called it). I’d be interested to read some more of your work on this!


  3. Synonymous says:

    I strongly believe that digital activism, or interactivism as I call it, is becoming more and more popular due to the advent of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. These sites don’t go out of their way to facilitate such behaviour, they merely provide the means by which people can express opinions globally and form groups based on such opinions. It has never been easier to find out what is going on in the world, it is a simple search away, and it has never been easier to “get involved”. In today’s age, a few clicks can add your signature to a petition which would have taken months to complete last decade, it now takes days or weeks.

    Slacktivism, this phrase wreaks of contempt for the concept of making activism easier. Maybe it is patronisation from those who came before us and put in so much effort to achieve so much. It was so hard for previous generations to affect social change, such as achieving women’s rights, or legalising homosexuality, or abolishing apartheid. The biggest issues of human history have mostly been “fixed” over the course of the last century, and with a lot of hard work. It must seem unconscionable to that generation that we simply click a button to join a Facebook group, or retweet a hashtag to raise awareness of a cause.

  4. Helena says:

    My first book, “The Patriot Betrayal” is now out on In “The Patriot Betrayal,” readers learn the real reason behind government spying on American citizens…
    Government corruption

  5. Helena says:

    AFTER WE TAKE BACK THE COUNTRY Dante Alighieri said there are nine levels of hell with the lowest level reserved for those who turn against their country and countrymen…
    Social causes

  6. helena says:

    AFTER WE TAKE BACK THE COUNTRY Dante Alighieri said there are nine levels of hell with the lowest level reserved for those who turn against their country and countrymen…
    Political change

  7. helena says:

    The next war: If you want to predict the future, create it. Demonize countries and guarantee the next war by manipulating public opinion: fear of terrorists blowing up shopping centers,
    International politics

  8. helena says:

    There are four steps that have already occurred. The fifth and final step has yet to play out but all the pieces are in place. #1- Internment Camps These are not figments of the imagination, or the product of a.
    Humanitarian causes

  9. helena says:

    Because scum rises to the top. The military and the Obama administration consider human lives worthless. Obama and the military constantly lie and then laugh behind our backs knowing that we are naive enough to believe their lies. ..
    Political change

  10. Pingback: Digital Activism vs. Social Activism – Brooke's Blog

  11. Pingback: Story #3 – Site Title

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