In his Times piece from yesterday, “Hashtag Activism, and Its Limits,” David Carr at first doesn’t seem so sure about this whole online advocacy thing:
I’m starting to experience a kind of “favoriting” fatigue — meaning that the digital causes of the day or week are all starting to blend together. Another week, another hashtag, and with it, a question about what is actually being accomplished.
But by the end of the article, he’s come around:
That outcome — a very traditional organization responding with an open mind to a netroots outcry — made me think again about my own cynicism about Web activism. Many of the folks who made the unpopular decision at Komen are gone and the policy has been amended. Trayvon Martin’s death is under investigation and the president is now weighing in directly. And who knows, perhaps the Web-enabled sunlight on Joseph Kony will end with him being brought to justice, finally.
Sure, hashtags come and go, and the so-called weak ties of digital movements are no match for real world engagement. But they are not only better than nothing, they probably make the world, the one beyond the keyboard, a better place.
Not a bad recognition of the struggle common to most online communicators, and (frankly) most advocates in general: how do we turn people’s concern/outrage/disgust into some meaningful act?
One aspect of Carr’s piece that jumps out at me is that he seems to speak of online activism in the abstract, as something taking place out in the aether without much connection to the real world. To the contrary, most successful online organizing I can think of — from Zucotti Park to Tahrir Square — is fundamentally tied to action in the physical world. Yes, we use digital tools to spread messages and mobilize supporters, but we’re often doing so in order to ask people to do something concrete, even if it’s just to call their Congressmembers. Think about it: the 2012 Obama campaign isn’t investing in a massive digital team just to get people to post articles on Facebook — they’re doing it (ultimately) to get them to turn out and vote. Miss that, and you miss the real point of digital advocacy.
BTW, thanks to Gaurav Parikh for sending the article around.