Online Political Mobilization and Advocacy Groups: Beyond Clicktivism
A growing feeling among advocacy traditionalists is that recruiting supporters through mass-email blasts has spawned a lazier form of activism, sometimes referred to as “slacktivism” or “clicktivism.” However, whether or not the tags of “lazy” or “ineffective” are accurate remains a subject of ongoing inquiry and debate.
A 2010 study from Rutgers University published in the Policy & Internet Journal, “Online Political Mobilization from the Advocacy Group’s Perspective: Looking Beyond Clicktivism,” examined claims casting doubt on the effectiveness and utility of email campaigns and explored empirical results from advocacy groups employing online mobilization techniques. The study’s author collected and analyzed digital campaign data from a variety of organizations over a six-month time window.
The study’s major findings include:
- Of 70 progressive organizations reviewed, 18 organizations sent less than one message per month and 6 organizations did not send any emails in the six-month time period.
- Advocacy groups most often used email alongside traditional offline mobilization techniques.
- Based on 836 action alerts from the 70 advocacy organizations, groups were twice as likely to ask members to attend a local rally or host a house party than to contact a federal agency. Email petitions constituted only 202 of these action alerts.
- To test message effectiveness, advocacy groups can send out separate emails to different segments of their list. This immediate analytic process provides “democratic” feedback that would be costly and time-consuming under traditional direct-mail campaigns.
- The largest online political blogs now have access to methods of mobilization previously only available to well-staffed advocacy groups such as the Sierra Club.
The study notes that detractors of digital activism have often “failed to recognize the placement of email [with]in the suite of campaign tactics used by progressive advocacy groups.” In conclusion, the author writes, “the broader indictment of ‘email campaigns’ finds limited empirical support from an analysis of the membership communications originating from prominent progressive advocacy groups in America.”
Tags: voting, elections, technology, campaigns and media
Read the issue-related The Guardian article "Clicktivism Is Ruining Leftist Activism."
- If you were to rewrite the article based on knowledge of the study, what key changes would you make?
Read the full Rutgers University study "Online Political Mobilization from the Advocacy Group’s Perspective: Looking Beyond Clicktivism."
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.