Clicktivism and online petitions risk turning people into ‘armchair activists’, says Bentley

08 Sep 2017 News

Julie Bentley, chief executive of Girlguiding

The head of Girlguiding has said that so-called ‘clicktivism’ through online petitions risks turning people into “armchair activists” who aren’t really engaging with the issues.

Julie Bentley, chief executive of Girlguiding, who was speaking at NCVO’s Campaigning Conference in London yesterday, said that while online petitions are “brilliant tools”, they aren’t going to make a campaign win on their own, and risk alienating people from the causes they actually believe in.

“Clicktivism, digital petitions, they are brilliant tools but alone they aren’t going to win in most campaigns,” she said. 

She added that there's a “real risk that people are going to just become armchair activists”, who think that “if they click on numerous links” then they are “doing their bit”.

“But are they really engaging with the real issues?”

'Best campaigns have people at the heart'

Bentley, who was asked to discuss what the future of campaigning in the voluntary sector will look like, said that while modern technology was incredibly important, the best campaigns will always have “people at the heart of them”.

“The best campaigns I believe still have people at the heart of them, and bring people together around shared passion.”

With that in mind, Bentley said her organisation had recently launched Action for Change, a social action initiative with its members, which she said encourages “girls and young women to take social action in their local communities at a local level” and was “a face-to-face, on the ground, real time movement”.

Campaigning and branding 'no longer under our ownership'

She also said that the sector must learn to let go control of its branding and wording when it comes to future, beneficiary or member led campaigns. Bentley said Girlguiding encouraged its members to be vocal about issues which are important to them, and campaigners need help supporters “harness new technology as best they can”.

“No longer is campaigning under our ownership and control. No longer can we as professionals control it any longer, nor indeed can party politicians. We’ve got be ready and open to deal with the fact that our supporters are going to go off and say what they like.

“Our members in girl guiding are very vocal about what they think about things and are very vocal on social media. That’s fantastic, but they don’t always say what we’d want them to say, but it’s their voice. We need to be able to help our supporters and beneficiaries harness that new technology as best they can, to have the most impact on the issues or causes they are representing.”

She also said that campaigners can no longer “rely on the usual channels to reach our target market” and must embrace “bloggers, vloggers and YouTubers” and begin looking beyond traditional media. 


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