Julien Blanc and Dapper Laughs have learnt about the power of clicktivism the hard way

How can anyone deny the world-changing power of online activism now?

Janey Stephenson
Friday 14 November 2014 12:50
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Dapper Laughs and Julien Blanc have both been the targets of successful clicktivism campaigns
Dapper Laughs and Julien Blanc have both been the targets of successful clicktivism campaigns

Clicktivism has historically been aligned with "slacktivism" (a mix of "slacker" and "activism"). Critics claim that this kind of campaigning displaces people’s energy before goals have been achieved, that its supporters are passive, lazy and non-committal to the cause, and that professional organisations are swooping in and commercialising activism. UNICEF have even created a video to make the point that Facebook likes do nothing to help them deliver their services to children.

But this past week’s events prove its power.

On 2nd November 2014, a young woman from Washington DC tweeted in response to a video she’d seen online. The video in question featured a "pick-up artist", Julien Blanc, lecturing a room of young American men on how to assault Japanese women. A browse through his YouTube channel uncovers several videos where he instructs men on how to coerce women into sex.

The Japanese-focused video in particular sparked outrage online, and Jenn Li had decided to do something about it. Armed with the hashtag #TakeDownJulienBlanc and a Change.org petition, Jenn began an online campaign that would soon snowball into a global movement to stop Julien Blanc and his predatory colleagues.

Within the space of ten days, venues in multiple countries have cancelled Julien’s events, Australia has deported him, Brazil and South Korea have denied him visas, his Facebook page has been shut down and a petition calling for the UK to deny him a visa has surpassed 100,000 signatures. Meanwhile, the whole movement is gained increasing international media attention.

Like it or not, online campaigning – or clicktivism – is powerful. It is more accessible and has a much bigger audience than traditional offline methods. Anyone with Internet access can participate, at any time of day, and action doesn’t rely on availability at a certain time, ability to travel or willingness to risk a criminal record. Some say it’s not real activism, but if it’s making social change, then what is it?

Although likes, shares and hashtags might not directly help fundraising campaigns or be able to tackle the structural roots of poverty, they are potent when it comes to rapid-response organising. Clicktivism is easy, fast and exciting.

Busy people, anywhere in the world, can take part and be counted. The #TakeDownJulienBlanc campaign didn’t need people’s money or their bodies for a protest, it needed people to sign an online petition to give it clout, flood hotel Facebook pages with criticism to make them listen and spread the word as fast as they could to get as much support as possible. And it worked.

Take another example from this week: the comedian Daniel O’Reilly (also known as Dapper Laughs). After 68,210 people signed a petition, accompanied by the hashtag #CancelDapper, calling for ITV to cancel his show that features harassment of women and jokes about sexual violence, ITV decided not to re-commission his show, and his tour has been cancelled. Like Julien Blanc, within the space of a week he has lost his platform at the hands of campaigners.

However, the influence of online activism goes far beyond clicks. Social media naturally gives itself to discussion and debate and this week, global conversations have been sparked on the PUA industry, incitement to violence against women and the limits to freedom of speech.

A spotlight has been shone on rape culture and people who wouldn’t usually consider themselves activists, possibly not even feminists, have made change happen within minutes. Furthermore, #TakeDownJulienBlanc and #CancelDapper supporters did take more action: from logging complaints with Twitter and YouTube, writing letters to ITV and even calling the Japanese embassy in the USA.

The actions over this past fortnight have created a global community of dynamic activists who have coordinated actions across time zones and taken activity offline: in Melbourne, Australia, a protest was held outside one of Julien Blanc’s planned seminars. For those who couldn’t be in Melbourne but wanted to show their support, live updates from the protest were tweeted and petition numbers kept climbing.

It’s time we started calling clicktivism what it is: activism. It’s not a solution to every social justice issue, and there will always be a need for protests, strategic litigation and insider lobbying. However, social media has the power to galvanize people and is gaining traction as a campaigning platform.

In a world where North Americans spend more time on social media than on any other part of the internet (including e-mail) and Britons alone spend an estimated 62m hours each day on Facebook and Twitter, wouldn’t it be a waste not to put this time to good use?

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