Avaaz. They capitalize on the virality of social media to promote their causes, like stopping the genocide of Rohingya people in Burma.
The secret to some of their success comes down to harnessing the potential reach of the internet.
"We're like a laboratory for virality," said then-head of press for Avaaz, Sam Barratt (cited in Cadwalladr, 2013).
Barratt explains that Avaaz uses principles of Internet marketing to get as much exposure as possible for their causes."We're a lab for virality." Sounds disingenuous, despite perhaps good intentions. #NMN cc @jessl pic.twitter.com/Om6ozOd01C— Gwyneth Dunsford (@gwynduns) March 7, 2016
Author Carole Cadwalladr also discusses how online activism campaigns like those from Avaaz may be problematic. Critics of Avaaz say they're capitalizing on groundwork that other non-profits have been laying for years. Avaaz has also been criticized for its support of freelance journalists in Syria.
Relating back to criticism of Avaaz:— Gwyneth Dunsford (@gwynduns) March 8, 2016
via @WhyDev https://t.co/85zTW0w4PE #NMN @jessl pic.twitter.com/WTg4m4TlyB
"Maybe slacktivism has its advantages. Maybe Avaaz and its members are less constrained, less scared. Maybe you can save fin whales and Edward Snowden and bring peace to Palestine, too." (Cadwalladr, 2013)
Henrik Serup Christensen's academic article questions some of the assumptions made in "Inside Avaaz." Though Christensen's paper focuses on political activism online, I think his research can be applied to other online activism campaigns.
He looks at whether online campaigns can create real world political change, and whether participants in online campaigns also participate in activism offline. In other words, he is trying to debunk the idea that online activism is only "slacktivism".
Due to the complexity of the issue, Christensen does not reach a solid conclusion and suggests more research on the topic.
My take aways?
- "it is premature to dismiss the impact of the Internet on political activism altogether",
- "being involved in effortless political activities online does not replace traditional forms of participation, if anything, they reinforce off–line engagement,"
- and, "[slacktivism]... is at worst harmless fun and can at best help invigorate citizens" (Christensen, 2011).
Cadwalladr, C. (2013). “Inside Avaaz – Can Online Activism Really Change the World?” The Guardian. Accessed on 26 February, 2016 from http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/nov/17/avaaz-online-activism-can-it-change-the-world.
Christensen, H.S. (2011). “Political Activities on the Internet: Slacktivism or Political Participation by Other Means?” First Monday. Accessed on 26 February, 2016 from http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3336/2767, DOI:10.5210/fm.v16i2.3336.