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Reassessing clictivism: a tool of the (pandemic) times

Faculty Advisor




digital activism, online identities

Abstract (summary)

Activism has long taken place in digital spaces, from the 1990s hacktivism of the Zapatistas to Edward Snowden’s digital leaks and modern-day online petitions (Karatzogianni 2015). In contemporary digital culture, online activism is often characterized as clicktivism, or dismissed as slacktivism, and defined as “low-risk, low-cost activity via social media whose purpose is to raise awareness, produce change, or grant satisfaction to the person engaged in the activity” (Rotman et al. 2011, 821). Less generously, it can be defined as “acts of participating in effortless activities as an expedient alternative to expending effort to support a social cause” (Hu 2014, 354). Despite its unfavourable reputation in both academic and non-academic writing, clicktivism became an undeniably powerful tool at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdowns forced people around the globe to stay home for extended periods of time, resulting in increased exposure, via various media, to local and global social issues. This intensified social consciousness, in combination with public health orders prohibiting large gatherings, fostered clicktivism as a primary method of social activism, shedding new light on its qualities, both positive and negative. Criticisms of clicktivism fall into two main themes. First, many consider it inferior and counterproductive to “real world” activism which is characterized by actions such as street demonstrations (Halupka 2014, 116). Second, critics argue that motivations for clicktivism are murky because of the slippery slope between genuine activism and mediated virtue-signalling. In more theoretical terms, there is a concern that impression management, efforts to influence others’ perception of us, is the motivation for clicktivist action, not a desire for social change. In response to criticisms of clicktivism we contend that these arguments hinge on misconceptions around online activism and identity construction. In the case of online activism, critics often assume it always involves what psychologists call moral balancing: reliance on previous moral action, such as “liking” a political social-media post, to excuse future (in)action such as not demonstrating or donating. In fact, people are at least equally motivated to maintain consistency between past, present, and future behaviour (Lee and Hsieh 2013). As for impression management, critics associate it with deception, diametrically contrasting it with authenticity. This perception fails to recognize that everyone regularly impression manages in their face-to-face and technologically mediated interactions with others, and typically not from vanity or insecurity (Goffman 1959).

Publication Information

Puplampu, A., & Macpherson, I. (2023). Reassessing clictivism: A tool of the (pandemic) times. In V. Kannen & A. Langille (Eds.), Virtual identities and digital culture (ch. 4, pp. 48-56). Routledge.



Item Type

Book Chapter



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