I’ve been following a “debate” on a technology list serve which represents the absolute worse of the discourse on digital activism. Even writing the word debate in quotes is too generous. It was like watching Bill O’Reilly or Glenn Beck go all out on Fox News.
The arguments were mostly one-sided and mixed with insults to create public ridicule. It was blatantly obvious that those doing the verbal lynching were driven by other motives. They have a history of being aggressive and seeking provocation in public because it gets them attention, which further bloats their egos. They thrive on it. The irony? Neither of them have much of a track record to speak of in the field of digital activism. All they seem to do is talk about tech in the context of insulting others who get engaged operationally and try to make a difference. Constructive criticism is important, but this hardly qualifies. This is a shame as these individuals are otherwise quite sharp.
So how do we prevent a Fox-styled future of Digital Activism? First, ignore these poisonous debates. If people were serious about digital activism, the discourse would take on a very different tone, a professional one. Second, don’t be fooled, most of the conversations on digital activism are mixed with anecdotes, selection bias and hype, often to get media attention. You’ll find that most involved in the “study” of digital activism have no idea about methodology and research design. Third, help make data-driven, mixed-methods research on digital activism possible by adding data to the Global Digital Activism Data Set (GDADS). The Meta-Activism Project (MAP) recently launched this data project to catalyze more empirical research on digital activism.
You’re confusing Fox News with what happens at activists’ protests. Try actually watching some Fox News and see if you see what you’re describing. While you’re at it, try watching some of the other cable news channels (also CNN HLN primetime) and CSPANs to see what you find different there.