The rise of the clicktivists: will the revolution be digitised?

Sunday 30 October, 5.30pm until 6.30pm, Upper Gulbenkian Gallery

A new generation of online activists is credited with fuelling a resurgence in contemporary protest, using blogs, Twitter and other social media to mobilise and get their message across. These so-called ‘clicktivists’ boast they are transforming the way protests are organised, taking a leaderless, spontaneous and quick-moving form. Blogger Laurie Penny even claims the web is ‘the greatest democratising force of our times’. Numerous commentators have dubbed the uprisings in Tunisia and across the Middle East ‘Wikileaks revolutions’ because of the way activists used the web to communicate and coordinate protests. And clicktivists aren’t just fomenting protests on the streets: internet group ‘Anonymous’ has taken on the websites of some of the world’s largest companies, and many claim the world’s first ‘cyberwar’ is on the horizon. Nevertheless, this new kind of online activism is also being promoted by governments. The US State Department is actively encouraging digital activists in certain countries with oppressive governments. Even the UK government is encouraging a kind of clickivism, with new forms of e-petitions being proposed to better engage with the views and desires of the public.

Is the internet just another tool in the activists’ toolbox, accelerating normal protests, or has it brought about fundamental changes? If it has, for better or worse? Is it increasing the amount of debate and discussion around protests, or actually making protests more superficial; diminishing what it is to be committed to a cause and estranging campaigners from grassroots concerns? Does the new ‘leaderless’ form of organisation online mark the development of a powerful weapon against the status quo, or instead mean protests are likely to be fleeting, ineffective and chaotic? In his book The Net Delusion, Evgeny Morozov argues that the internet can just as easily be used by governments to counter protests and for increased surveillance and control. Hosni Mubarak’s faltering administration even shut down the internet in Egypt for a week, suggesting it would be a mistake to make activism too dependent on the web.

Is proclaiming ‘It’s Twitter wot won it’ diminishing the hard work and dedication that goes into meaningful protests? Will future revolutions happen online, or do the clicktivists need to put down their laptops and get out more?


Listen to session audio:

 

Speakers
David Babbs
executive director, 38 degrees, an online campaigning community

Phil Booth
coordinator, medConfidential

Paul Mason
broadcaster; author, Financial Meltdown and the End of the Age of Greed; technology editor, BBC's Newsnight

Martyn Perks
digital business consultant and writer; co-author, Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation

Chair:
Patrick Hayes
director, British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA)

Produced by
Patrick Hayes director, British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA)
Recommended readings
Facebook doesn’t cause riots – or revolutions

Social media luvvies are outraged that the websites on which they spend every waking hour – Facebook and Twitter – are being held responsible for the recent rioting in England. And they have every right to be outraged. It is daft to blame social upheaval and acts of violence on what are merely tools for communication.

Brendan O'Neill, Telegraph, 25 August 2011

The Revolution will be Digitised: dispatches from the information war

At the centre is the Establishment: governments, corporations andpowerful individuals who have more knowledge about us, and more power, than at any other time in history. Circling them is a new generation of hackers, pro-democracy campaigners and internet activists who no longer accept that the Establishment should run the show.

Heather Brookes, William Heinemann, 19 August 2011

The Revolution will be Digitised: dispatches from the information war

At the centre is the Establishment: governments, corporations and powerful individuals who have more knowledge about us, and more power, than at any other time in history. Circling them is a new generation of hackers, pro-democracy campaigners and internet activists who no longer accept that the Establishment should run the show.

Heather Brooke, William Heinemann, 18 August 2011

The revolution will not be tweeted

Evgeny Morozov provides a damning critique of those who believe that social-networking tools are the spark that ignited recent political uprisings.

Martyn Perks, spiked, 28 April 2011

Revolts don’t have to be tweeted

There is a lot more to the recent uprisings than just the knock-on effects of social media.

Laurie Penny, New Statesman, 16 February 2011

From Paris to Cairo, these protests are expanding the power of the individual

Twitter is only part of the story of the empowering of a generation failed by the evaporated promises of the labour market

Paul Mason, Guardian Comment is free, 8 February 2011

BoI 2007 Vox Pop 1

"If you have not tried it, you miss the best annual collective thought provoking opportunities in Britain."
Vijaya Madhavan, business consultant and part time doctor

follow the Institute of Ideas