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By Romy Shoam March 9, 2020

Is Clicktivism Really Activism?

Illustrated by Marilou Choquette

If you’re active on Instagram, odds are you’ve heard of the account @plantatreeco. This account gained popularity in the spring of 2019, when they rose to 151,000 followers thanks to their single post claiming that for every follow and repost to one’s story, they would plant 100 trees. Although many were convinced to click, unfortunately, the posts was actually were just a devious marketing scheme for the account posting the fake campaign to gain visibility, and then market their product - cheap jewellery. There is absolutely no proof that @plantatreeco donated any money to plant any trees; there is a complete lack of transparency. In this case, participating in ‘clicktivism’ gave those who liked or reposted a false sense of accomplishment, and brainwashed the public into thinking that this mindless act would actually make a difference. 

‘Clicktivism,’ as defined by the British newspaper The Guardian, is the act of supporting a cause by the click of a mouse. Today, it is the predominant way of raising awareness online. Posting and liking content has evolved from simply sharing one’s personal life into a supposedly legitimate technique for raising awareness and garnering support and money for a cause. ‘Clicktivism’ can be used in a multitude of ways, such as in the sphere of environmental activism as a call to action. Unfortunately, it can also be a deployed as a devious marketing scheme to gain clicks and increase viewership. 

Whenever you click for a cause, then, are you actually having a positive impact on that cause?  Or are you doing something that is at best possibly useless and at worst a money-making ploy? 

Apart from these blatant acts of deception, though, the question remains: is social media a useful medium to incite environmental and other action? I think that it can be - but the process has to be twofold. 

First, it’s true that social media does provide exposure for a cause. Platforms like Instagram that use a visual medium can raise awareness for a certain issue by posting photos and infographics. 

Tentree, a sustainable clothing company, actually led a successful and traceable social media campaign prior to the Plant A Tree Co. scam. On April 22nd, 2019, in celebration of Earth Day, @tentree posted “The World’s Most Sustainable Post” on Instagram. They promised to plant 500,000 if the post was liked at least 5 million times - and it was. Tentree informed users exactly where - Biak Island, Indonesia - and how - through Eden Reforestation Projects - these trees will be planted. Proof of previous similar projects can also be found on their website. Thus, Tentree’s transparency gives users the confidence that their like actually made an impact. 

Sea Legacy, an ocean conservation organization, posts photos and videos of marine life––for example, a Norwegian orca––and captions them with an informative text that may detail if their species is endangered, and if so, how the follower can take action. Sea Legacy uses storytelling to raise awareness and has an online platform that not only eductates its viewers but that also gives them the opportunity to make a tangible change by signing petitions, sharing them, and/or directly donating money. In the case of Norway’s marine life in the Lofoten, Sea Legacy succeeded in influencing its government to inhibit any oil or gas exploration in Lofoten through a petition and campaign shared on Instagram in 2017.

Another educational platform is Lauren Singer’s blog, or @trashisfortossers. Singer lives a zero waste lifestyle - in other words, she generates no non-recyclable or non-compostable waste in any one of her activities or habits - and founded Package Free Shop, a store in Brooklyn, NY that sells plastic-free alternatives to daily necessities. She documents her business ventures and personal life on her Instagram account, and provides tips and inspiration for budding environmentalists and experienced zero-wasters alike. 

As more Instagram accounts pop up around the topics of a low waste life, environmental issues, etc., they become mainstream. More users are exposed to the initiatives, causes, and personal ventures, which may incite them to act similarly. 

However––and this is the critical second step––as a follower, it is easy to not actively engage, and instead just follow. Actually acting on one’s public interests, i.e. as per one’s followed accounts on Instagram, requires much more effort. It necessitates actively holding oneself accountable for one’s daily behaviours, and not feeling like having saved the world by liking a post. 

I’ve personally struggled with this dilemma. After realizing the urgency of the climate crisis, I started exploring how I could make a change as an individual. I followed accounts like @sealegacy and @trashisfortossers, and was inspired. Although Singer advocates for any low-waste changes made by her followers, not only a pursuit of a drastic zero waste life like hers, I felt like I was seeing the destination of a project without having been privy to the journey, one that was surely filled with mishaps and mistakes. 

As a result, I decided to start my own Instagram account with a close friend, Alia Dobson, to explore and share what lacked from accounts like Singer’s : an honest attempt at achieving a low waste life with attainable and affordable tips and tricks. We invite our followers to join in on the journey as well in order to foster a motivated and united community. We’ve called our Instagram account @costumechange.co, as it is focused on fashion and clothing: we call for a ‘costume change’ of our clothes and our minds. 

Besides posting tips, we debunk fashion trends, share inspiring Instagram accounts, feature sustainable brands, post creative DIY alternatives, and share our own ‘confessions’ as to how we are not living the perfect zero waste lifestyle. We are committed to showing that we are just budding environmentalists; we are far from perfecting our green habits. We hope to use clicktivism to our advantage, and to use the power of social media to spread our message and efforts. Setting up this account has also sent us on a journey of discovery, learning and change, and hopefully it can do the same for others as well––so long as they go beyond clicking and take meaningful action. 

It is easy to stay passive, but it is not impossible to become active. I think that Instagram is a fantastic platform to share inspiration, but one must be careful as to not be sucked into the hole of false achievement and patting oneself on the back for liking a post. Environmental change will not be achieved by tapping the heart icon, but instead, by having the heart to make real change in one’s lifestyle. 

https://www.sealegacy.org/our-work#campaigns 

http://trashisfortossers.com/ 

https://www.instagram.com/costumechange.co/?hl=en 

About the illustrator

Marilou Choquette is a first year Illustration student. You can view more of her work here.

Acknowledgements

Romy Shoam is a 2nd year student in Liberal Arts.

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    Ammar Hussein

    August 31, 2020

    I believe that ‘clicktivism’ is just a very unreliable way of supporting a certain cause. Sure, there are some examples of them being effective. Some of them however use a fake cause as a way to gather likes and to get people reposting that specific post. I agree that social media is a great place to raise awareness, especially between teenagers, as it opens up to them the door to the many untold issues that are happening around the world. I just believe that achieving real change should be done through direct donations or by signing petitions. Social media activism is a two-edged sword. I like that some organizations such as Sea Legacy, were able to bring that sort of awareness to the real world and have a positive effect on the marine life. Scams unfortunately, such as plantatreeco, are much more common than the legitimate activist accounts.

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    Taylor Sacks

    August 31, 2020

    In Is Clicktivism Really Activism by Marilou Choquette, the impacts of when companies trick social media users into false activism for their own economic benefits are outlined. Clicktivism fuels a mindset that all someone must do to fight social injustice and other issues is click on a screen. It also can be abused by companies such as plantatreeco that may not actually be fighting climate change, and are using it as a marketing ploy. Nowadays most instagram feeds are filled with advertisements telling us which organizations to support, so sometimes it is difficult to distinguish which ones are actually taking part in activism. This article serves as a reminder that social media must do their research before they repost, in order to discover organizations such as Sea Legacy that are actually making a difference.

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    just_draw_art

    August 31, 2020

    “Unfortunately, it can also be a deployed as a devious marketing scheme to gain clicks and increase viewership.” Sadly, these type of ‘clicktvism’ always start to get popularity and then they take advantage, when there’s a worldwide event happening. They mask the ones who actually want to help out and want to raise awareness like Lauren Singer account who’s bringing awareness of the zero waste lifestyle. It’s kind of frightening when people trust the first thing they see and think they’re contributing to the right instagram page without looking at the account and because of this the instagram algorithm makes the wrong type of click get common and grow even more faster . Personally, i rather research and donated directly and that way i’ll know im contributing to the right cause.

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    Murielle Chaghouri

    August 31, 2020

    I think it really depends on the organizations and the social media accounts. If you share links that come from well-known organizations whether it’s petitions, donation links etc., it is way more reliable. Some dishonest people use their accounts to gather likes and after, they try to sell things, like the account @plantatreeco which was mentioned in the article Is Clicktivism Really Activism? written by Romy Shoam. Making some researches beforehand to prevent the spreading of a non-legitimate post or account is a way more effective method to bring your support to a good cause. In 2020, I believe that social media platforms are really good places though to raise awareness, especially when you’re a teenager.

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    alyssas

    September 1, 2020

    I think its super important to make sure that whatever you are reposting is a legitimate organization, but it can be hard to tell sometimes. it sucks that because of accounts like @plantatreeco being scams, real ang genuine organizations working to make a difference are being tainted. It is affecting people who actually do want to make donations. I feel that sometimes the best way to donate is to just do it directly, as there are so many scammers out there. Just recently with the Australian wild fires there were many Clicktivism posts that were not real. Its important to do our part on social media and raise awareness for issues going on in the world nut we must also take responsibility for what we share and make sure that it is from a reliable source.

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    chrisanthyk

    September 1, 2020

    It is true that “clicktivism”, does not really mean that that you are actively participating in a cause. I do believe people just really click to like a post that is gaining popularity and contributing to that cause without realizing that they are not being activists.“Environmental change will not be achieved by tapping the heart icon, but instead, by having the heart to make real change in one’s lifestyle”, as stated “ Is Clicktivism Really Activism”. Organisations that want to grow their platform will use clicktivism to raise awareness for their cause however, they must acknowledge that due to false advertisement on behalf of others, they must prove that their intentions towards their cause is genuine, in order for individuals to actively participate.

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    Mark David Alejandro

    September 2, 2020

    This piece is very interesting for me personally because I have an instagram account and I see lots of posts that asks for likes and shares in order for something to be done or happen. For example just like what was said in this piece the instagram account that asked for likes and shares and they would be planting 100 tree. This article shows us that not every posts that are asking for likes and shares in instagram are for a for good cause, some are only asking for more popularity and to boost viewership. “I think that Instagram is a fantastic platform to share inspiration, but one must be careful as to not be sucked into the hole of false achievement and patting oneself on the back for liking a post. ” This section is interesting for me because this is really happening in instagram, IG accounts that are asking for likes and shares in order for something to happen and we really have to be careful because some are only done to create popularity. But we also can prove that clicktivism is activism simply because there are also lots of posts that are not only asking for likes and share but to also to give awareness.

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    erratums

    September 2, 2020

    I thought this article to be very well thought out for many reasons; the first of all being the choice of subject. Instagram is one of the most widely used social media networks, and it has really done everything to try to keep our eyes on the screen-everything has been thought of. Some of us spend hours and hours browsing, and the question that this article brought up was an important one: can we really trust what we see on instagram? And are we really helping by pressing “like”? A company called ten tree was used as an example as a page that gained thousands of followers by posting posts promising to plant trees, a promise which was never upheld. There is no doubt countless other pages are in the same boat. This article brought to light the importance of really checking a sources reliability, and not counting on instagram as the only means of your activism.

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    Shahd El Tahrawi

    September 2, 2020

    I wanna start by saying that the art is amazing and that it describes so well the situation in the “article”. I found this text very interesting to me because I experienced this on Instagram . Instagram is one of the most popular social media platform.” I think that Instagram is a fantastic platform to share inspiration, but one must be careful as to not be sucked into the hole of false achievement and patting oneself on the back for liking a post. I believe that is a good idea to take “advantage” of this app to show people awareness on important things happening in the world such as the climate change. Unfortunately some people take advantage of it in a negative way. Like mentioned in the text @Planttreeco has been lying to some of us by saying they would plant trees for that many likes on their posts. A lot of people participated on this clicktivism thinking that it would help because of the current situation that is happening on earth. A lot of us were ignorant about this but we all had good intentions.

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    Aurélie Sylvestre

    September 2, 2020

    The piece ‘‘Is clicktivism really activism’‘, written by Romy Shoam is extremely interesting for me, because it is a subject that touches me.
    Indeed, I saw those posts and liked them thinking that maybe it could be true, because why not, if it is true, I would’ve helped our planet a little. I did not know it was a scam and I am a little disappointed that people could do this just to have a lot of followers. The author also talked about the fact that people are only liking and following these kinds of post to feel better about themselves and don’t do anything else. I can relate to that a lot, because even if you want to be ecofriendly, it is harder than it looks. It can be expensive and when you are a student you might not have the time or money to afford this type of lifestyle. The initiative she took with her friend is very nice and people should follow her lead.
    She mostly put emphasis on how people try to help the planet, and what they should really be doing to help.

     

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    Sylvie Di Fruscia

    September 2, 2020

    Since starting CEGEP, a part of my second humanities course was reading a few articles based on non-profit organizations as well as some of the “social media schemes” mentioned in the article. As a result, we also discovered that these organizations post articles to portray a certain image in order to gain popularity and to raise money to be used for their own personal gain.  It is unfortunate to say that this is the reality of these organizations and not many people know it which causes them to promote something they believe is one thing but in reality, it’s the total opposite. Thankfully, there still are a small number of organizations that stay true to what they believe in like SeaLegacy but those are much harder to find compared to internet schemes. I really like how the author was comfortable enough to give an honest opinion as her conclusion.

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    Jeremy Abudarham

    September 2, 2020

    Clicktivism among our generation is predominantly used for the following two purposes: either to genuinely spread awareness for a cause or to jump on the bandwagon. In any aspect of life, the reason for following a trend without intentions is to avoid being alienated and targeted by the community in question for not being one of the sheep. Influencers need their fanbases in order to live ands to keep their fans, they make sure that the overall happiness of their followers is very high. This could lead in influencers lying or just blindly supporting a cause and this is “a devious marketing scheme to gain clicks and increase viewership.”
    This just shows how far people can go just to gain popularity and love from others. Modern influencers are fast to jump and support any cause that is trending because of the fear of rejection they would receive from the media and fans if they didn’t affiliate themselves.

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    Jilliane

    September 2, 2020

    [ IS CLICKTIVISM REALLY ACTIVISM? By Romy Shoam ] Social media nowadays has been a big part of everyone’s lives, that is where we all spend most of are time for entertainment or even catch up on the news. With that being said, is social media a good place to spread new and bring awareness to the problems we have going on in the world? Personally, I do think that we are lucky to live in an era where we are able to share important news with the world and to get everyone aware to help better the situation. This is the line that really stood out the most for me which is “‘Clicktivism,’ as defined by the British newspaper The Guardian, is the act of supporting a cause by the click of a mouse.” This can be very controversial, because it is easy to just share a post and go on with your day, which is what most people are doing nowadays but we also have to remember that there are more people in this world that are ready to do more good than bad. By constantly posting and bringing awareness to others maybe they will slowly understand that the situation is important and should educate themselves and see what else they can do to help, other than sharing a post but by also signing petitions and donating.

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    joyce

    September 3, 2020

    This article is particularly eye-opening especially during these uncomfortable times. With everything that is going on around the world, everyone feels the need to participate; some because they truly care and others because it is a trend. The term clicktivism sums it up perfectly. I, myself, struggle with how I can make a difference at home through my screens however I have always been reluctant to posting these pages that claim to be making a difference with every share. I think that my generation, especially those who are quite invested in social media, do not contemplate how they are actually helping, rather they just do it for, to put it bluntly, validation. I think that if all a person does is share a post that does not provide any factual information or any resources that are actually helpful, it is creating a bigger problem for our society.

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