How Clicktavism Has Fallen
How well I remember the early days of online activism, when anything seemed possible. In those days, we believed that we would use the Internet to change the world. It all seemed so easy. We only needed to bring people together, and soon we would pool our resources to solve problems that had resisted all previous efforts.
Into this optimistic setting came TheRainforestSite, a simple web page that promised to pay for rainforest conservation every time a visitor came to the site and clicked on a graphic. How simple it was! How elegant! Power to the people!
Reality set in fairly quickly. Clicking on graphics on the Internet wasn’t effective activism. To this day, rainforest is still being destroyed at an alarming rate.
I’m sure that the people behind TheRainforestSite meant well in some way, but now, the web site is an online store, selling nightshirts made at substandard wages in factories built where healthy tropical habitat used to be in Bangladesh. In former tropical habitat in Mexico, there’s a factory making plastic Lego toys, sold on TheRainforestSite.
Does buying any of this actually help save rainforest anywhere? I can’t tell you for sure, but TheRainforestSite does sell a purple mousepad made out of neoprene with dragonfly drawings on it, with the message “Just Believe”. The mousepad is imported from somewhere outside of the United States. Just where that is, TheRainforestSite won’t say. Could it be from a sweatshop built where rainforest used to be? I’d like to think not, but TheRainforestSite doesn’t offer any assurances other than to “Just Believe”.
It’s not just TheRainforestSite that has fallen into less than ethical practices. Another web site that promised to make the world a better place through mouse clicks was Care2. For a while, Care2 seemed like a network that might actually bring people together for positive change. Then, it started promoting snake oil medical schemes. Now, Care2 is sending out emails more filled with advertisements for things like hair dye, razorblades, and cosmetic merchandisers eager to tell the story of how, at age 61, Christie Brinkley “is looking decades younger than her real age. Christie reveals how she looks so young after 40 years of modeling and acting.” (Hint: It’s Photoshop and plastic surgery.)
Irregular Times has been getting offers from advertisers for years, looking to give us money in exchange for access to our readers. We’ve always said no to these offers, because we were worried about going down the path that Care2 has taken. Giving control to advertisers breaks the promise of activism: To stand for what’s right despite the sacrifices that it requires.
In 2016, naive hopes for online activism have been dashed. Mostly, people use the Internet to seek advantage for themselves, buying stuff at low prices on the backs of exploited workers and polluted environments, sending their money to autocratic regimes and corrupt corporations in exchange for a quick fix whatever their heart desires at the moment. The Internet hasn’t improved voter turnout, hasn’t advanced the cause of peace, hasn’t helped the environment, and has made economic inequality worse. Indymedia’s last major post was in 2013.
This isn’t what we hoped the Internet would be about. If online activism is going to ever make a resurgence, it won’t be through “easy” actions, but through the same determined slog that makes activism effective in the offline world.