Online petition website Change.org recently declared victory against the leader of pro-legal rape group Return of Kings – evidence that ‘clicktivism’ may not be the empty gesture it seems.
Last week, Daryush ‘Roosh’ Valizadeh’s plans to hold anti-women meetings across the nation were thwarted by supporters of Change.org.
The activist platform’s petition calling for Valizadeh to be barred from entering Australia gained 100,000 digital signatures, prompting NSW Police to promise it would “act” if meetings went ahead.
While online activism is often criticised as the lazy alternative to traditional forms of protest, a researcher told The New Daily that ‘clicking’ can be just as powerful as taking to the streets.
“Calling it ‘slacktivism’ is a knee-jerk reaction,” Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis research fellow Max Halupka said.
“Society is moving away from the traditional forms of democracy and the old guard is having to catch up.”
Personal stories are powerful
According to Karen Skinner, director of Change.org in Australia, online petitions are most powerful when they communicate a personal story.
“The ones that do resonate tend to be someone sharing their own experience,” Ms Skinner said.
She recalled the story of Australian Nicole Perko, who was placed on the waiting list for life-saving cancer treatment because of budget restraints. After a Change petition gained 77,000 signatures, Ms Perko had her surgery and has since been living cancer free.
“People genuinely wanted to save her life,” Ms Skinner said.
“They can picture it happening to themselves or a loved one.”
Mr Halupka, who has authored multiple studies on online activism, said it is a way for individuals to bypass old systems and harness their own power.
“Whether or not you agree with it, the anti-Halal movement is a good example,” Mr Halupka said.
“Those people had an issue, and they managed to build a campaign that eventually forced certain companies to remove their Halal certifications.”
A changing of the guard
While the rise of ‘clicktivism’ has been linked to a decrease in political engagement in other areas, Mr Halupka said the two can exist together.
“A lot of protests in recent years have involved people marching at the same time as others in cities around the world spread information online,” he said.
“Movements like ‘Occupy Wall Street’ and the ‘Umbrella Revolution’ in Beijing are examples of that.”
He said the role of the internet was more of an “information-spreader” than physical protests.
Ms Skinner argued that ‘clicktivism’ is often only the beginning of a person’s involvement in a cause.
“Often when people sign Change petitions the author of the petition will then message members asking them to phone their local member or comment on a newspaper article.”
Despite physical protests being visually effective, Ms Skinner pointed out the geographical advantage of ‘clicktivism’ with the example of a massive Change petition that resulted in the legalisation is medicinal marijuana in New South Wales.
“How else would a mother from Tamworth mobilise 250,000 people?”