Expert Commentary

Online political mobilization and advocacy groups: Beyond clicktivism

2011 study in the Policy & Internet Journal on claims that mass email techniques used to mobilize people reduce activist energy.

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 providesdemocratic” 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

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