UBC Journalism 100 - Medium Blog Post Assignment

A: Activism/ Advocacy

B: Facebook

C: “Research shows how one devastating image totally changed how we talk about the refugee crisis"

The Dangers of Online Activism

When thinking about activism one of the first things that to come to mind are the women’s liberation marches with bra burning to tree hugger environmentalists that chain themselves to trees. The reality is that activism has changed from being a physical display for a cause, to a virtual display of support on the Internet through online communities. Activism is defined by dictionary.com as “the doctrine or practice of vigorous action or involvement as a means of achieving political or other goals, sometimes by demonstrations, protests, etc.”
However, on the Internet, activism is supposedly demonstrated through online sharing as an act of activism, which I would call “passive online activism”. But what does this term mean? Well, “passive online activism” would be referring to the act of sharing information of relevant actuality through social media and positioning oneself on a side of a conflict while claiming to be an activist that has not acted in the "real" world to solve the issue, which is also commonly referred to as “slacktivism”. This is probably mostly observed through Facebook and under the definition of activism would not even be considered as such. I am not saying that online sharing is wrong in any manner, but even as the Internet has given people the opportunity of augmenting the sound of previously unheard voices it has also done some damage to the concept of social movements.

This topic comes from Quartz’s article reporting how the picture of Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body on a Turkish beach, who drowned along his mother and brother trying to reach the Greek coast reached 20 million screens around the world in just 12 hours. Quartz reports that researchers at the University of Sheffield concluded that the image changed the word choice used on social media about how people refer to the individuals fleeing their native countries due to political and/or social crisis.

The trend passed from using the neutral of “immigrants” to the specificity of the term “refugees” that imply a forced act of moving due to external causes out of control for the individuals moving. This change in terminology and the sharing of the Aylan Kurdi’s supposedly lead to the softening of countries and newspapers towards taking refugees in the public outcry of the population as the hashtag #refugeeswelcome spiked in popularity on Twitter. The picture of Aylan Kurdi and articles regarding the photography flooded Facebook due to the millions of shares.

I do not deny the effectivity of online sharing like in the example mentioned above. People become emotionally sensible by sensitive images, which was one of the causes for the rise of hashtags on refugees and even the change in terminology used for refugees. Still, one problem that many seem to ignore in the age of the Internet is the damaging effects of online sharing as it does not only increases possible awareness but also increases desensitization specifically through images and videos as explicit content becomes banal and “common” in online social media. The risk comes in the concept that many people usually perform “passive online activism” in substitution of actions outside from the world on the Internet. So, that the act of increasing awareness might not be considered an act of activism but something that could comprise activism among other acts that directly involve a personal statement from the person spreading awareness.
The danger of “passive online activism” lies in the possible belief in which people may think that by sharing information they have already done their deed towards relieving for a cause as if it was a solution.Facebook, now in 2016 in my consideration is the social media most prone to “passive online activism” as people share links on news in their Facebook walls as a statement of their persona. As a way to say to the world they care about an issue without adding much to it but the act of sharing. Many people care to comment on their beliefs for solutions regarding causes contributing, at least, to the active discussion that could lead to some solution. Still, many others do not even care to comment and continue to perform “passive online activism”. The danger of this kind of people is the belief in which they think that by sharing information they already have done their deed towards relieving for a cause as if it was a solution.

Yet, why I am focusing so much on Facebook? Well, this is due to Facebook’s structure that helps to raise “passive online activism”. Facebook has embraced the identity of the online person different to other social media that can be more selective in content like Instagram or mundane like Snapchat. Facebook’s walls serve as a personal declaration of a person’s identity regarding beliefs and interests. So, people pretend to perform activism through sharing articles on Facebook that will speak to them as people.
The final point of the “passive online activism” issue is that it can take a pretentious standpoint from certain people on bragging their intellectual selves from the concept of sharing information as an act of activism. Strictly, from my point of view sharing is not enough to be considered activism.

Yes, sharing has helped to spread ideas but not to support them; of course, here I have to acknowledge that there are situations in which nothing else can be done besides sharing to spread awareness. But for other occasions, like the refugee crisis, sharing is not sufficient; sharing is not a replacement to contribute to the resolution of the conflict. I reinforce the idea that sharing is a tool for online activism as it unites people and informs personal on beliefs, but is not the replacement in any form to the classic tactics of social movements that help into the solution and not exclusively on awareness like “passive online activism” does.