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Does the Internet Spur Social Change, Or Lazy Activism? (usc.edu) 98

An anonymous reader writes: If you participate in social media, you've probably noticed the flood of posts that happen any time a social issue becomes prominent in the news. Whether it's sharing a supportive picture, changing their profile, or signing a petition, users flock to these causes. But are they really doing anything useful? An article from USC Dornsife debates whether this form of "lazy activism" is actually effective in pushing social change. It's been long established that people are surrounded by a "filter bubble" online, where they're only exposed to viewpoints they already agree with. There's also the question of whether liking something on Facebook makes you less likely to contribute to a cause in more substantive ways.

On the other hand, this type of internet activism does do what social networks are designed for: building a community. Strangers with the same views can more easily organize into groups, and groups of a certain size are heard by lawmakers, regardless of their origin. Plus, engaging in small, low-risk activism does make people more likely to engage in further activism with more impact. The real question we need to answer is whether the smaller and more ephemeral groups are doing more good than harm. For now, it's clear that protesting face-to-face is far more effective than gathering in a chat room — but at the same time, hacktivism is growing in popularity as well. It may eventually have a similar effect to sit-ins and picket lines as our culture moves more and more online.

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Does the Internet Spur Social Change, Or Lazy Activism?

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  • Activisim? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fluffernutter ( 1411889 ) on Friday December 25, 2015 @01:40PM (#51182427)
    "lazy activism" is a complement. There's an age old word to describe what happens in social media, it's "gossip".
    • There's an age old word to describe what happens in social media, it's "gossip".

      Those who want change, act, Those who want to talk about change, post.

      .

      What happens on social media is the current equivalent of talking among your friends, co-workers and acquaintances, i.e., gossip or water-cooler talk.

      Those who want to do something more than just flap figuratively their lips will always do more, as they will know that social media is a pacifier and not a tool for change.

      • Re:Activisim? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Friday December 25, 2015 @02:55PM (#51182661)

        Those who want change, act, Those who want to talk about change, post.

        Even talking about change is better than just doing nothing and ignoring the issue. A big social issue in America today is abusive policing, with an anti-black bias. Violent cops are going to jail, police chiefs are getting fired, body cameras are being deployed. The situation isn't changing because of a few vocal activists, but because of broad awareness of the issue, mainly through Youtube and Facebook.

        When you see millions views on a video of a black kid being gunned down, it is silly to say that is bad because those viewers aren't marching in the street. Instead, you should say that it is good, because those millions of people are finally aware of an issue that has long been ignored. On election day, perhaps they will have second thoughts about voting for the district attorney that is endorsed by the police union.

        • Re:Activisim? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by NostalgiaForInfinity ( 4001831 ) on Friday December 25, 2015 @04:07PM (#51182949)

          A big social issue in America today is abusive policing,

          It's a "big social issue" in the sense that there is a lot of press coverage, not in the sense that it actually affects the daily lives of a lot of people. And the lives it actually affects are the lives of people who are generally simply apathetic about using the democratic process to improve their lives.

          Instead, you should say that it is good, because those millions of people are finally aware of an issue that has long been ignored. On election day, perhaps they will have second thoughts about voting for the district attorney that is endorsed by the police union.

          Policing is a local issue. It doesn't take millions of self-righteous privileged white liberals in Boston or DC to fix the problems in Ferguson, it's something the people of Ferguson need to do by participating in local elections and politics. Unfortunately, the kind of online activism you seem to favor actually reinforces the ignorance and belief of minority communities that it is "the system" or "racism" or something else outside their control that is causing their local governments to be dysfunctional.

          • It's a "big social issue" in the sense that there is a lot of press coverage

            The social media is driving the press coverage, not the other way around. Laquan McDonald was killed a year ago, but nobody heard about it until two weeks ago, when the video was posted on YouTube.

            not in the sense that it actually affects the daily lives of a lot of people.

            The Holocaust didn't affect the lives of most Germans. Some of us actually care about living in a fair and just society.

            • The Holocaust didn't affect the lives of most Germans.

              You don't know what you're talking about.

              Some of us actually care about living in a fair and just society.

              So why are you pushing for an unfair and unjust society?

          • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

            Even if they are bit excluded from voting by some minor criminal record from their past, waiting for the slow wheels of democracy to turn isn't really an option when you are in danger of being murdered by a cop every day.

            It's not just a local issue either, the same problem exists in many places and by linking those incidents by their common causes it has helped to start fixing them. This is especially true in majority white areas where engagement with white voters has been key to creating political pressure

            • Even if they are bit excluded from voting by some minor criminal record from their past, waiting for the slow wheels of democracy to turn isn't really an option when you are in danger of being murdered by a cop every day.

              There is no "wheels" that need to turn. Ferguson, Detroit, and other cities have had ample opportunities to kick out their government. Of course, like sheep, they keep voting for the same Democratic machinery and suffering the consequences.

              It's not just a local issue either, the same proble

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by drinkypoo ( 153816 )

            It doesn't take millions of self-righteous privileged white liberals in Boston or DC to fix the problems in Ferguson,

            Really? Local problems fix themselves? Is that why we have the fourteenth amendment? I think it does take self-righteous privileged white liberals in DC to fix the problems in Ferguson. They're called congress. And they need to take action to rein in the police, who are abusing and executing citizens on a regular basis. They will kill you for a pen [photograph...acrime.com], they will attempt "false flag" operations and then attack protesters when they are discovered [thefreetho...roject.com], they will shoot you in the back [thefreetho...roject.com], they will get away with serial r [thefreetho...roject.com]

            • The problems are endemic and wishing will not make them go away.

              Well, you are absolutely right: these problems are "endemic"; that is, they are limited to particular locations and groups of people. They are not universal problems, they are not epidemic problems, and they are not growing problems.

              We need citizen's police review boards with teeth everywhere that we have cops.

              Why? It's the job of city government and/or elections to review police. The city where I live seems to be doing a good job. Why should

              • They are not universal problems, they are not epidemic problems, and they are not growing problems.

                Disagree on all points. [copcrisis.com]

                • Too bad that your link goes to some flashy site that just shouts some numbers in big, bold text, but doesn't actually support what you're trying to say.

                  Go check the data yourself: the rate of police killings varies randomly over time and has not been increasing significantly; furthermore, police killings are distributed highly non-uniformly across the country and concentrated in specific communities.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          Abusive policing, with an anti-black bias? Nope. Far more black people are killed by other blacks than by any police officers. Sorry, but the facts are in, the debate is over. It's a false narrative, and if you're buying into it, you're just carrying water for the plantation owners.
          • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

            That's a bizarre argument. Black people kill each other, so who cares if a few white cops get some murders in too. I mean, they are savages right, killing each other, so law enforcement doesn't need to treat them like more civilised races.

        • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

          by Sardaukar86 ( 850333 )

          A big social issue in America today is abusive policing, with an anti-black bias

          A bigger social issue is lying cucks like you, determined to frame the issue as 'police brutality against the poor innocent blacks' and damn the facts because "facts are racist".

          Police brutality is legendary in the US but there's an easy way to avoid being shot by a cop: don't behave like a violent prick. Amazingly, this seems to work pretty well - but don't let that get in the way of your crocodile-tear narrative about the poor, oppressed and utterly innocent blacks.

          You disingenuous arseholes make me sick

    • Re:Activisim? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by PapayaSF ( 721268 ) on Friday December 25, 2015 @02:14PM (#51182535) Journal
      It's also social signaling of one's virtue, and a way of expressing personal psychological issues. Many "activists" are deeply angry and unhappy people, and their fervor is not really about the subject of their activism.
      • That's pretty much the definition of ad homenim, attacking the bearer of the argument, nut the argument itself. Entertainingly, you don't even care what the argument is (or who is bringing it), but appear to be preemptively attacking something that might cause discomfort/require you to question done long held beliefs and assumptions.

        But no matter which side of the debate you're on, you've managed to dismiss the other side.

        Well played.

        • Well, no. If I dismissed a particular bearer of a particular argument as merely motivated by personal psychological issues, yes, that would be the ad hominem fallacy. But merely pointing out that personal psychological issues often underly political positions is simply acknowledging reality.

          And of course, it's a matter of degree. Nearly every activist cause has some truth to it. There is plenty of tragedy and need and injustice in the world. But one way the personal psychology comes in is in how someone rea

    • 'There's an age old word to describe what happens in social media, it's "gossip".'

      There's an age old word to describe what happened before social media, it's "gossip".

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Social media is fuelled an enormous queen-bee/mean girls bullying spree by mobs of outraged social justice types attacking anything/anyone that doesn't fit their extremist gender politics.

      They've bullied, doxed, SWATted and tried to get people fired - all with the help of a media that's all too willing to latch onto controversy for ratings.

      Frankly, if you shut down twitter etc tomorrow the world would be a much better, saner, place.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    But I really, really want everyone to know how much I care about things that don't affect my own life in any meaningful way!

    • Re:Caring (Score:5, Funny)

      by Rockoon ( 1252108 ) on Friday December 25, 2015 @01:48PM (#51182455)

      But I really, really want everyone to know how much I care about things that don't affect my own life in any meaningful way!

      My thoughts and prayers go out to those stricken by apathy.

      • My thoughts and prayers go out to those stricken by apathy.

        Better apathy than good intentions; the road to hell is paved with the latter.

        • Apart from mindless regurgitation of cute aphorism is there any actual reason that apathy is better than good intentions?

          • Apart from mindless regurgitation of cute aphorism is there any actual reason that apathy is better than good intentions?

            Well, as long as you don't act upon your "good intentions", you're OK. When you do act upon your good intentions, you're often going to cause more harm than good, since it is unlikely that you have a good understanding of what the people you intend to help actually want or need.

  • All those movements for change in the middle east? Looks like they ended up making matters worse. Arab Spring turned out to be a disaster. Only self-styled "keyboard warriors" engage in slacktivism. 100 people protesting is far more effective and far more meaningful than 100x as many people "liking" something.
    • Only if you think that talking about issues online *replaces* protesting. Unlike talking about things in real life, which of course is a necessary prelude to protests.

      It's the same shit as was happening before, except now that it's #ontheinternet, old people have a new way to decry the youth caring about things. Maybe we should patent it.

      • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Friday December 25, 2015 @02:41PM (#51182617) Journal
        Same shit as before indeed. Including this:

        It's been long established that people are surrounded by a "filter bubble" online, where they're only exposed to viewpoints they already agree with.

        As opposed to people consuming traditional media, who are exposed to a healthy broad range of viewpoints and in-depth analysis of The Truth. Give me a break. Personally, I find exchanging ideas and arguing with people holding opposing viewpoints to be rather educational, and that's something that the internet offers but traditional media can't. Online discussions have made me rethink my deeply-held beliefs, forced me to re-examine my arguments, changed my opinion on several occasions, and offered me a more nuanced view of those with opposing viewpoints, and insight into their lines of reasoning. At the very least it has made me critical of anything that is offered up as "evidence". And that's something that I only very rarely get in traditional media. A newspaper article can offer up bullshit statistics as "facts", the same statistics online will be picked apart, debunked, and countered with other data in no time.

        But you're right: this is still just talking, not protesting.

        • Online discussions have made me rethink my deeply-held beliefs, forced me to re-examine my arguments, changed my opinion on several occasions...

          You may be a minority there. Internet "debates" rarely end with anything other than one side shutting out the other. In fact, it's the ease with which we can filter out dissenting opinions on all kinds of media (traditional and new) that make them poor catalysts for significant changes in opinion. Face-to-face discussion trumps all else when it comes to magnitude of effect per person.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Face to face discussion just convinces me that you're an idiot in person too.

            • The fact stands that idiots are harder to run from in person. Note that the magnitude of the effect on your opinion doesn't mean that your opinion always has to be brought closer to the opinion of the person you're discussing it with. Say you have a certain policy on hosts files. Since you probably filter out everything APK posts, he probably has no net effect on that policy. But if you saw APK everyday and he spouted the same drivel he spouts here, you would likely start doing the opposite of what he says.
    • by Lennie ( 16154 )

      The Zen master says: "We'll see."

  • by koan ( 80826 )

    Does the Internet Spur Social Change, Or Lazy Activism?

    Lazy activism and much worse.

  • It's kinda like a decentralized, private sit in. I suppose we could get people to do *by the book* work slowdowns.

  • Logical fallacies (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jimbo ( 1370 ) on Friday December 25, 2015 @01:51PM (#51182473)

    I think it's a logical fallacy to suggest there's only those two choices or that one one of them can be right. As for these two I have seen both happen.

  • Useless garbage (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Friday December 25, 2015 @02:15PM (#51182541) Journal

    For now, it's clear that protesting face-to-face is far more effective than gathering in a chat room

    This quote from TFA says it all: what happens on the Internet is of little relative value compared to what actual people do in the Real World, because there is little to no risk involved in anything you do on the Internet,and if you protest in the Real World? You may get arrested, or even killed, depending on where in the world you are. Words on a screen don't mean a whole hell of a lot compared to actual physical action because words on a screen can be easily ignored. Oppressive governments are not overthrown with posts on an Internet forum, and no real social change occurs because 100,000 people signed an online petition, not unless the powers-that-be receiving said petition are holding themselves to a set of rules that means they're willing to take said petition seriously. The Internet gives you the illusion of making a difference; if you want to make a real difference, you have to do something in the real world; ISIS may use the Internet to radicalize people who are susceptible to being radicalized, for instance, but the rest of the world isn't going to defeat ISIS by posting in online forums or signing online petitions. That all being said: Does getting people 'talking' have any value at all? Yes, it does. But if posting on the Internet is all you ever do, and you never get out of your chair, go outside, and actually do something? Then you're just kidding yourself. The Internet is now what people sitting in a living room discussing things over drinks used to be; it's all fine-and-dandy to talk over a glass of wine about how you think the human rights abuses in some far-off country is terrible and what you think should be done about it, and a far, far different thing to actually get out of bed the next morning and go do something about it. Most people won't, they're satisfied with the illusion that signing some online petition or voicing their opinion on Reddit 'made a difference'.

    • You know what? I think I have a better, much shorter way of saying what I was trying to say above:

      The Internet is information. 'Information' is a noun, not a verb. Anything you 'do' on the Internet is exchanging information, and while that in and of itself is an action, it's still all just a noun. Therefore nothing that happens on the Internet is really, truly, an action.
    • This quote from TFA says it all: what happens on the Internet is of little relative value compared to what actual people do in the Real World, because there is little to no risk involved in anything you do on the Internet,and if you protest in the Real World?

      Why should protests in the real world make any more difference? Whether a tiny number of people parade around in the streets or post stuff on the Internet is irrelevant for political or economic change. What matters is votes, laws, and dollars. Everythi

      • Reading through the past 50 or so of your comments, there are some things obvious to me: You are a pseudo-libertarian whackjob. You have leanings in the direction of racism and bigotry. You are a transplant from the EU, but you don't seem to understand the history of the U.S., and you don't understand what this country is about. You seem to think that 'the law' is all there is, and that 'voting' is going to solve every single problem, which is completely and totally wrong; this country was founded on civil
    • by Anonymous Coward

      In a lot of places, posting the wrong opinion online can also get you arrested or even killed, so I guess those governments don't think it's harmless noise.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Discussion on the internet often has real world effects. People get fired or forced to apologise because their behaviour was publicised. This is often bemoaned as mob justice on /. but in any case is undeniably effective.

      Discussing these things also helps effect smaller individual changes. There has been a lot of talk about feminist issues, and about anti-feminist/men's rights issues that has caused people to behave differently in real life. Agree or disagree, the effect is often reported here on /. and I'm

      • You've heard 'Soap Box, Ballot Box, Jury Box, Ammo Box' before, right? I'm not saying 'forget talking on the Internet', because the Internet is one of the 21st Century 'soap boxes' you can use, but it's just the beginning of change if change needs to happen, and as such it's relatively easily ignored; if all anyone does is yak on the Internet and they never go any further with what they purport to believe in, then it is just useless noise and garbage. When people write their elected representatives, get iss
  • Wait..you mean propagating #hashtags don't really change anything? OMG, mind blown!

  • It's been long established that people are surrounded by a "filter bubble" online, where they're only exposed to viewpoints they already agree with

    That's why on Slashdot sometimes I friend people I disagree with, if they are able to make a well-reasoned argument (even if I disagree with that argument).

  • by RyanFenton ( 230700 ) on Friday December 25, 2015 @02:57PM (#51182667)

    The internet is a container for any kind of content. It can hold anything. Saying that people using it can be lazy means nothing.

    It's like the whole argument about games and art. Games can contain anything. They have music, creative artistic images, moving digital sculptures, all mixed with varying degrees of audience participation. Whole TV shows and movies are occasionally enclosed in game content. They can be anything, and are made into new things all the time.

    The internet is that, and more - it's the combination of whatever anyone chooses to share over certain protocols, and even the protocols can change. It can and likely will become almost anything. Are people using it frequently lazy and ineffective at some tasks? Yes - and people everywhere using virtually all tools are also frequently lazy and ineffective.

    Did anyone expect the internet to somehow make people especially efficient or effective at every task? Just because someone reads newspapers, that won't make them any better at journalism - same with internet and activism. More opportunities to learn, but it's not a school, and even specialized schools don't have the greatest correlation in reliably measurable improvement.

    The only thing you should expect is that using the internet will likely make some folks better at using the internet. Until the internet changes. Everything else is just bonus.

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      The same way having hundreds of friends on Facebook gives the illusion of popularity participating in hundreds of Facebook protests gives the illusion of activism. I think lazy activism is the wrong term, because that implies they're aware it's ineffective but can't be arsed to do more. It's more like homeopathic activism, the participants think it works but it is so diluted that the only result is a placebo effect.

  • Lazy people sitting on their asses complaining instead of going out and doing something about it. #GetOffYourAss

    There, you can consider that my contribution for today in the fight against lazy activism.

  • Social media and email and for that matter group-texting are great for organizing pop-up/short-notice real-world street protests.

    Local (to me) groups have used Facebook and other tools to arrange last-minute events at least twice in the last few months.

    • Social media and email and for that matter group-texting are great for organizing pop-up/short-notice real-world street protests.

      Local (to me) groups have used Facebook and other tools to arrange last-minute events at least twice in the last few months.

      And? Those don't do anything either. They just demonstrate that the people chanting and ranting are well off enough that they can afford to not hold down a job, and instead spend their time looking for media coverage to impress their friends. They sway no opinions, they only annoy the people who already find them to be shrill or annoying. When was the last time that you fundamentally changed your value system because someone yelled at you in the street? On the other hand, I know lots of people who might ha

  • I'd been considering this for some time. Generally I am writing letters to politicians to raise their awareness of an issue as they have the same problem most busy people do, they are time poor. The difference is, it's the job they were elected to do. Throw in entities with vested interests in an issue and you reach the point where the only people trying to influence politicians are the one being paid to do it.

    /. is *almost* the right platform due to the longer posts and the moderation system that provide

    • Dear Minister

      I wish to voice my opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership Bill. I ask that you reject the Trans Pacific Partnership until proper time has been given for our citizens to analyse it's effect.

      Considering there are roughly thirty chapters and 6000 pages in this Trade Agreement I would be expecting it to be scrutinised and proper time for the ramifications to be thoughly assessed and not rushed passed the house, considering there is no emergency that it addresses.

      As an important part of

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        Passed -> past. There might be more, it was TL;DR for me but it's with checking if others may copy/paste it.

        • by MrKaos ( 858439 )
          Thanks AmiMoJo, as you can see the TPP is massive. I think the experiment is showing that internet activism is mostly talk.
  • "Is Technology allowing us to improve ourselves, or allowing us to become lazy and complacent?" The answer is always it depends who and where and when and how. For example, if I'm outraged by Boka Haram, I could (per the article) tweet hashtags and think I accomplished something by venting my gossipy opinions. On the other hand, I can speak directly with Africans in the northern sahel who are online and have 80-90% cell phone teledensity about the problem and get information unfiltered by western media.
  • and groups of a certain size are heard by lawmakers

    Ya, every FB group with a thousands members is well known to lawmakers /sarcasm. Lawmakers have no idea about any FB group, it does not matter if they have a million members, or one. If you want lawmakers to hear you, you actually have to attempt to be heard (and we known single people are more than capable of doing this quite well if they have enough drive).

    hacktivism is growing in popularity as well

    Ya, and DDOSing Trumps website, and threatening ISIS did so much good.

  • But actually discussing the subject and coming up with plans that go more personal and executing em over the internet do actually work sometimes.

  • For local stuff, it can be fantastic. I was just involved with a large movement to get city council to vote to make municipal gigabit a thing, and we did a lot of networking, communication, and outreach via Facebook, and am now involved in a neighborhood watch group online. For larger stuff, can't say, but for local stuff it's really helpful.
    • Fine, you think you've got a cozy little electronic commons where everything will be unicorns and rainbows if we are all just willing to show our beautiful selves to one another. In the meantime, Facebook and its partners are making bank data mining your junk and marketing to you. And they say, "Thanks!"
  • Hacktivism I don't care about, it's done nothing to spur positive change quite the opposite and new hacktivist group are starting to appear with their own agendas and are beginning to cause more damage than ever. SOPA with the help of many organizations did make temporary change for a while that did include using the internet to help with that change. But then people lost interest and now we have variations of SOPA and soon the TPP. And it goes on and on. Biggest problems the 1%. Solution the other 99% will
  • Interesting.
  • Definitely the latter, IMO.

    If one is going to spend the time filling out the stupid petition forms on change.org or whitehouse.gov, they'd be better off just jerking off literally instead of just figuratively. Then, at least, they'd have something to show for an end result afterward.

  • None of it is real, people agree because it only takes a click, people disagree because they like stirring. They do very little to actually make a difference.. It's the hate mobs that are the problems!

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