The Guardian recently posted a blog about digital activism – mostly a nice personal reflection on the author’s positive experience of taking Avaaz actions and how that they feel connected to a wider movement and part of a social change by doing so.
But, the comments to the piece made me reflect on the wider debate on digital activism, particularly the “digital activism=slacktivisim=not real activism” debates of the last year and it left me feeling uneasy.
The uneasiness stems from feeling like I am a spectator in a debate about my area of expertise and passion instead of an active participant, and I know that others feel the same.
It really bugs me that the main commentators called on in this debate are not us or the women using mobile phones in small isolated villages where they save lives by providing and receiving information about health, markets and important civil news or the activists who resist dictatorships and human rights abuses by documenting evidence on videos/mobiles and sharing with the world via the web or the million of us who show our concern and empathy for others by taking part in activities we online and in the real world after reading about them via an email passed on by a friend, a twitter or facebook share we came across.
I am bored to death of seeing academics, pundits and “things were more activist in my day before this internet stuff” campaigners who are driving the debate, putting us into a constant defensive back foot focused on debating the tools rather than how we can use them to work together to achieve the changes we collectively want.
Collectively I think we (and I include me in this) need to step up and start directing this debate. I know we have amazing and inspiring stories, lessons, observations and techniques that if shared, would go some part to changing the tone of the debate into a more rounded discussion that looks at how we can achieve our goals rather than looking backwards to defend the tools we happen to use.
So radically I am suggesting a collective course of action and hope there is some energy in the room for it to run, but first a question.
Why do the current pundits and academics get the media space? Because they are writing/written books that have a PR campaign that provides hooks and ideas for editors to run with and the book gives the writer a authority above their normal role as graduate student, researcher, campaigner to comment in the public sphere.
So my suggestions are that we follow suit.
We collectively write and launch a e-book, or collection of our collective blogs, articles, interviews, and digital know-how. The actual format doesn’t really matter, what does is the buzz that the content generate, as it provides the authors a wider readership, authority and profile, a more knowledgeable sector and a wider range of pundits for media and editors to feature to balance the current cynical and pessimistic tone around most public debate and comment on the impact of digital activism and campaigning
This will mean that fellow campaigners and NGOs can have access to a better understanding of how effective our digital campaigning efforts are, partly informed by our results as well as these debates in the media, and at the moment the digital activism=slacktivism crowd is getting more airspace than us.
To ensure that we do tell our stories in a way that are understood in the way we intended, we need to be seen advocating and developing our own profiles with leading articles rather than justifying ourselves in the comments section.
What do you think?