On Digital Campaigning

Slacktivism has been discussed repeatedly in class the past few weeks. One point Prof Pasek brought forth was the idea of a “threshold” which people have to meet in order to take action against a specific policy that they believe is wrong. It seems that that threshold is when the perceived injustice goes against the person’s life to the point that it breaks through the distractions and fear of retribution that act as barriers to action. But when applied to digital campaigns, what are the metrics for success? Do the same thresholds apply? It appears that the answer is murky at best, due to the very nature of the Internet.

Karpf argues in his piece, Digital Activism Decoded, that there are almost too many metrics for success and that it is hard to separate the “signal” from the “noise”- the idea of “How do we expect to win, and how will we know that we’re achieving it?” It seems as though traditional quantitative methods of checking traffic and “likes” could be the work of a few, including members of the hacker community (164). This touches on the larger point of slacktivism and the threshold needed for a person to go from passive support, such as likes, +1s, possibly sharing/writing a status, to active support, like joining a group’s event or participating in real-world activism. Can we truly call a video that reaches 1,000,000 likes on Facebook successful? Let’s use the Kony video as an example. While the video was shared globally on a massive scale, not much actual change took place. In fact, very few people actually knew the internal politics of what was occuring in Africa and many turned on the group once it was discovered that the group’s co-founder was found engaging in illicit activities in public, sharing that story to the point it was lampooned on the popular comedy program South Park.

Although the Kony situation is a bit of an extreme example, it illustrates the problem with relying on solely digital campainging. From my own experience, I believe that digital campaigning can have a small part to play, but there must be a much larger real-world grassroots campaign behind the movement. Otherwise, a massive movement can flame out fairly quickly given a simple turn of events.

How do you think we would know that a digital campaign is successful? And to touch on the larger point, are digital campaigns taking the place of grassroots real-world activism?

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1 Response to On Digital Campaigning

  1. toriwhit731 says:

    I think you bring up a great point, calling into question the success of digital campaigns or how we can gauge this. I think the “quantifiability” really depends on what Karpf calls the “strategy” of any campaign. If you’re Miley Cyrus and you want people to simply watch your video to increase your celebrity, than likes and views may be considered a win. If you are Newt Gingrich, than simply quantifying your chances to win an election according to your number of Twitter followers won’t do the trick.

    But, I do think Karpf’s argument falls short by simply saying swaying public opinion or shaping public perception is the ultimate strategy. In the context of the government shutdown, it seems that swaying public opinion either left or right is incredibly stifling to the decision making process. Casting blame, getting hundreds or thousands of people to believe you, or whatever seems to be the goal of publicizing who is “wrong” doesn’t really change the fact that a deal hasn’t been made. Now this may not be applicable to all digital campaigns, I think a key component of “action” of some type should be emphasized in terms of quantifiable evidence of a successful digital campaign.

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