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Online Activism: #EpicFail?

Darsha Indrajith's picture

Have you liked the “Save Darfur” Facebook cause? If you have, you’re probably a slacktivist. Science says so.

99,76% of the group’s members have never donated to the campaign according to a study chronicled in “The Structure of Online Activism”, an article published in the Sociological Science journal in February 2014.
Over 1 million people had joined the Save Darfur cause between 15 May 2014 and 27 June 2010 – the timeframe which the study focused on. In this time online members had donated more than $100 000.
In comparison to the donation rate offline for the same cause, this is dismal. Online members were the least active in donating money. The Save Darfur campaign raised more than $1 million from mail contributions in 2008. This suggests that general apathy is not the issue.
Of course the study was only limited to Facebook and it is possible that online users contributed to the campaign in other ways (i.e. ways not measurable through their activity on the cause’s Facebook page). Furthermore, it may be that the Save Darfur campaign simply makes poor use of its Facebook page.
Selfies for Cancer
Other organisations have had more success in raising online funds, although the donations have been linked to online trends rather than consistent online activism. Despite justified criticism, the #nomakeupselfie campaign for cancer raised £8 million in a week for Cancer Research UK, reported Time.

The campaign, which was not initiated by Cancer Research UK, used the popularity of ‘no makeup selfies’ to generate the funds. The selfies were initially popularised by celebrities.
However, even though the campaign raised a substantial amount of money, some people missed the point of it. In South Africa, many uploaded ‘no makeup selfies’ with the intention to “raise awareness for cancer” and forgot about the donation. Some simply nominated others for no makeup selfies much like neknominations.
Social Media Success
What then makes online activism successful? For users it would be the realisation that a “like” or retweet is not going to do anything. Liking the Save the Children Facebook page will not save any children, just as taking a selfie will not cure cancer.
In the case of organisations, the examples above illustrate that social media should be used as a tool for activism and not seen as an ends in itself. Over 1 million likes mean nothing if those people do nothing more than clicking the like button.
Moreover, the popularity and success of ‘no makeup selfies’ reveal that any online activism campaign needs to understand cyber culture and how to use the trends it generates to the campaign’s advantage.
Online activism can be successful, but like anything else it requires thought on the part of both the users and creators’ parts.