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Will the tide turn on digital activism?

Technology has been amazing in allowing us to connect, engage, learn and make a difference. But I can’t help feeling though that we have, at the same time, created an online sea of bile and disdain, and we’re swimming against an ever-increasing tide.  It’s human nature to get upset, outraged and even stick our nose into matters that don’t concern us, but recent events have made me ask, have we reached new lows?

Digital campaigning against broadcasters like Alan Jones has been orchestrated in a manner which has been fast, targeted and so, so simple –  just a single mouse click is all that’s required to take action. The term ‘Clicktivism’ might be lost on many consumers of traditional media, but it is well known by digitally minded political and social campaigners.

I am not a listener of Alan Jones, nor am I defending him and some of his recent comments. Jones is his own worst enemy in that he apologises for his words and then repeats them in a short period of time – not the actions of someone that is sincere or truly repentant for their past behaviour.

What I am annoyed about and I think most corporates and businesses will eventually wake up to, is that much of the digital activity targeting people like Jones is what I would call ‘goldfish’ moments. We are agitated, annoyed and even outraged momentarily but we very quickly move on. The passion and drive to stay outraged by the issue is short lived, without any sustained appetite to make a change.

Alan Jones has been topping the ratings at Sydney radio station 2GB for 15 years. The real way to hurt and weaken the influence and voice of Alan Jones is to not listen to him. Poor ratings and a diminished audience is the most effective way of getting Jones off the air.

The ‘Clicktivism’ movement allows an easy pathway to send messages and notes to those that they wish to influence, and I can’t help feel it’s merely a click and not a message from the heart. With very little effort you click on a predetermined letter that will be sent to a sponsor or the target of a campaign with a message questioning their values.

Many corporates, businesses and government are making decisions and policy on the back of outrage clicktivism. Brands don’t like to be cast in a negative manner and end up trying to please everyone. The issue for me, is that these clicks are inherently meaningless, without any real substance and very important decisions are being made on the back of them.

Just this week, Jim Penman, the founder of the Jim’s Franchises, made a stand against clicktivists with a request to be added to their “blacklist”. While Penman is a lone figure amongst many brands who’ve removed their advertising from Alan Jones’ program, perhaps he’s on to something. It’s likely that his stand will create a short sharp backlash, but any outrage against him will be likely replaced by another target in a matter of days.

I would argue activism in its current state has lost its heart and its soul, which is the very essence of passionate protest, against the target that it disagrees with. A march on Parliament, a strong letter to the Editor, a talk back caller to a radio station, and even a placard on the front lawn takes some form of effort. An effort that is not being exerted by the modern-day digital activist.

By Nic Hayes

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