Bubbles and Slactivists: Debilitating to Social Change?

The large place that is the Internet, it seems that nobody quite has a handle on its possibilities or can predict where it’s going next. As we recall our discussions last week, we continue to build on our understanding of the Internet and the many differing opinions that inform its base. As we recall the claims of Rheingold and Shirky, both seem to suggest that social action has been made both easier and more accessible in lieu of the Internet. The ideas suggested by Morozov and Pariser this week add another layer to our Internet cake, not by questioning what the Internet has done or not done for users, but rather the valence of this progress and innovation.

In The Brave New World of Slactivism, Morozov does not question whether or not the Internet has made it easier for social action. Instead, he discusses whether or not this ease is realistically cutting the organizational corners of conventional activism. He questions whether or not this will lead to a peaked interest in the issues – and eventually, real activism or if users will remain clicking and feel as though they have done their part. He later warns that the successes of digital campaigns may instead have adverse affects on the long-terms goals of political action and social change (2). Along another paralleling line, Eli Pariser in The Filter Bubble discusses the Internet and the added innovation of personalization during use. Advertisements, suggestions of news, people, and events all infiltrate our Internet bubble. Pariser reaches beyond the mere fact that this has occurred and insightfully infers that this process has overall hindered the exposure of Internet users to substance beyond their expressed interests. This creates a filter bubble that may be problematic when mobilizing Internet users.  

I believe that both arguments of Morozov and Pariser are products of the other, but I don’t see them being quite as problematic as either author suggests. I think that when Internet users have personalized suggestions, they are more likely to engage with those topics and possibly engage in activism beyond a few clicks. But the beyond part is a product of personalization. Equally true, a peaked interest in a specific form of activism may shift the focus of your filter bubble or change its shape. With this being said, I don’t see the idea of slactivism as being completely debilitating to conventional activism. I suppose replacing it entirely would be harmful, but I don’t think we can disregard the idea of strength in numbers and the simple power of knowledge in creating social change.

Do you agree? What recent examples may point to the idea that there is strength in digital numbers? 

This entry was posted in Winter 2012. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Bubbles and Slactivists: Debilitating to Social Change?

  1. robausti says:

    By: Robbie Austin
    Regarding your discussion question, MoveOn.org-the largest political advocacy group in America- is an example of an organization that has strengthened due to its powerful digital numbers. MoveOn.org even utilizes the collaboration group Meetup.com in organizing street demonstrations, which is a traditional and conventional form of activism. I do think that Pariser has a point about the dangers of personalized news for everyone. After all, democracy requires a reliance on shared facts; instead we’re being offered parallel but separate universes. In the filter bubble, our past interests will determine what we are exposed to in the future, embodied in ‘informational determinism’ that leads to a web history your doomed to repeat in a static, ever narrowing you-loop. This leaves less room for the unexpected encounters that spread creativity, innovation, and the democratic exchange of ideas.

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