The Ugly Truths Changemakers Must Confront (And How to Overcome Them in 2024)

Slacktivism, Polariation, Misinformation: The Ugly Truths Changemakers Must Confront (And Proven Tactics to Overcome Them). Uncover the secrets to driving real digital activism impact today.

Matt By Matt
14 Min Read

The rules of activism have been shattered in the last decade, forcing changemakers to navigate a minefield of new challenges and opportunities.

For better or worse, the popularisation of social media has revolutionised the world of activism, presenting both exciting new opportunities for impact and dangerous new threats that undermine real progress.

Digital activism is a form of activism that uses the Internet and digital media as key platforms for mass mobilisation and political action. It involves using digital tools, such as social media, e-petitions, and online campaigns, to raise awareness, organise collective actions, and exert pressure on decision-makers to bring about social, political, or environmental change.

Britannica

Since I founded my charity in 2014, the rules, pace, and methods have changed so much that the old ways of doing things are hardly effective.

Much of the campaigning work I did in the charity’s early days was in the street, on mainstream television channels such as the BBC and ITV, in local, national, and international press, and on radio stations such as LBC Radio and BBC World News.

One of our largest annual campaigns, World Suicide Prevention Day, reached nearly 54 million people across broadcast media channels. This was a hugely successful campaign for our very small charity.

But now, do social media and digital activism have the most meaningful reach and impact?

Gone are the days when social media was just a place for selfies, life updates, and memes.

Social media has become the new battleground for change. Because of this, we need to learn its playbook.

Digital activism is not only here to stay… it’s only just getting started.

Key Takeaways

  • Navigate the pitfalls of slacktivism, polarisation and misinformation to drive effective change.
  • Move past superficial online engagement to inspire meaningful connections and tangible actions.
  • Maintain credibility by modelling empathy, avoiding oversimplification, and verifying information.
  • Take advantage of challenger platforms to support your long-term commitment to lasting change.

The Rise of Challenger Platforms for Digital Activism

Social media’s capacity to amplify messages across diverse, international audiences can transform campaigns from local to global overnight.

Challenger platforms are newer platforms that challenge the dominance of more established incumbents such as Facebook, X (Twitter), WhatsApp and Instagram.

Activists can use these platforms (in parallel to the likes of Facebook) to rally the troops, spread their message, and spark global movements that can circle the world in a heartbeat. Ideas can catch fire faster, reaching corners of the world at speeds we couldn’t imagine before.

Incumbent social platforms have expanded the reach of activism. They made it more accessible to everyone with internet access, creating a more inclusive space for participation.

However, as the power and influence of these major platforms start to weaken, new challenger platforms are gaining traction.

 

Here are nine challenger social network platforms you may never have heard of –

NameDescriptionUnique Selling Point (USP)Used ForLink
MastodonDecentralised, open-source microblogging platformAd-free, community-driven, and customisable instancesEngaging in activism, sharing news, and building federated networksMastodon
DiasporaDecentralised social network with user-owned dataPrivacy, control, and open-source architectureConnecting activists, sharing content, and promoting causesDiaspora
MindsDecentralised social media and networking platformBlockchain-based rewards, free speech, and open-source codeSharing uncensored content, engaging in discussions, and earning tokensMinds
GabSocial network and microblogging platformFree speech, minimal censorship, and alt-tech focusExpressing controversial opinions, sharing news, and building communitiesGab
OkunaEthical social network and marketplacePrivacy, transparency, and social impact focusConnecting conscious consumers, supporting ethical businesses, and promoting sustainabilityOkuna
ManyverseDecentralised, offline-first social networkPeer-to-peer architecture, privacy, and data ownershipCommunicating securely, sharing content offline, and building resilient networksManyverse
MobilizonOpen-source, privacy-focused and community-drivenOpen-source, privacy-focused, and community-drivenPlanning events, organising groups, and mobilising activistsMobilizon
ScuttlebuttDecentralised, peer-to-peer social networkOffline functionality, secure messaging, and user-hosted dataCommunicating securely, sharing content offline, and building local networksScuttlebutt
AetherDecentralised, self-governing online community platformDemocratic moderation, anonymity, and community-driven governanceParticipating in discussions, creating sub-communities, and moderating contentAether
Nine challenger social networks that can be used for digital activism

Digital Activism is by no Means Perfect

Digital activism certainly has some world-changing advantages; however, it is without criticism.

One of the main criticisms of digital and social activism is that it can lead to “slacktivism” and an influx of misinformation.

Slacktivism is the practice of supporting a political or social cause by means such as social media or online petitions, characterised as involving very little effort or commitment.

Wikipedia

Online engagement is often short-lived, leading to a lack of commitment and diluted calls to action.

Misinformation, on the other hand, can undermine causes and mislead supporters.

The fervour of digital campaigns can quickly dissipate without concrete actions, and activists must be careful not to fall victim to privacy breaches and censorship on platforms that are not fully under their control.

Avoiding Slacktivism, Polarisation, and Misinformation as a Changemaker

Steering clear of slacktivism, polarisation, and misinformation is like navigating a minefield full of mines that keep moving.

Let’s break it down:

1. Slacktivism Is a Trap

That like button feels good to press, doesn’t it?

But let’s face it, real change needs more than a thumbs-up.

As changemakers, diving deeper than surface-level support is important if you really want to make a difference.

Properly research and engage with issues, start conversations, and take tangible steps. Show up, speak out, and act.

Your followers can tell the difference between genuine action and just riding the wave to gain more followers.

2. Dodging Polarisation

In a world screaming for binary answers – right or wrong, right or left – finding the grey areas is your superpower.

 

Polarisation can turn potential allies into foes.

Keep the dialogue open, listen more, and judge less.

Remember, the aim is to unite, not divide.

When discussing sensitive topics, be patient, be inquisitive, ask questions if you genuinely can’t find the answer elsewhere, wait and listen.

Being an activist, campaigner or changemaker is exhausting.

Respect the time invested by others and their boundaries.

A spoonful of empathy goes a long way.

3. Battling Misinformation

The internet, social media and right-wing press are a wild west of facts and fiction.

Before you share that explosive piece of info, pause. Fact-check, source-check, and then check again.

Misinformation can derail genuine causes, so be the voice of reason and educate your audience on spotting fake news. Your credibility is your currency; spend it wisely.

Staying true, thoughtful, and informed makes all the difference.

Take one well-informed step at a time.

Strategies for Effective Digital Activism

As we’ve explored, social media and the internet have transformed the nature of activism, opening up new opportunities for driving change.

However, the risks of slacktivism, polarisation, and misinformation have never been greater.

To be an effective changemaker in 2024, you must carefully prioritise authenticity, nuance, and impact over empty gestures.

The key is to approach digital activism with a focused, multifaceted strategy.

Use the power of challenger platforms, in addition to the mainstream social platforms, to amplify your message.

But don’t rely solely on the quick dopamine hits of likes and shares. Instead, invest time in building genuine connections, nurturing thoughtful dialogues, and inspiring your community to take tangible action.

Be the voice of reason in a sea of digital noise.

Model the behaviour you wish to see – lead with empathy, resist the urge to oversimplify complex issues, and always verify your sources. Your credibility is your most valuable asset, so use it wisely to educate, enlighten, and empower your followers.

Above all, remember that meaningful change takes sustained effort.

Digital activism is a marathon, not a sprint.

Stay committed, adapt to evolving landscapes, and never lose sight of the real-world impact you’re striving to create.

By navigating the pitfalls with care and conviction, you can harness the power of digital platforms to drive lasting, transformative change.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Digital Activism and How Has it Transformed Activism?

The rules of activism have been shattered in the digital age. What was once confined to the streets and mainstream media has now exploded onto social media and challenger platforms, transforming the very nature of how we drive social and political change.

Digital activism harnesses the internet and digital tools to rally support, amplify messages, and spark global movements at unprecedented speeds.

What Are the Main Criticisms and Dangers of Digital Activism?

While digital activism opens up exciting new avenues for impact, it also carries significant perils. One of the primary criticisms is the rise of “slacktivism” – feel-good online engagement that lacks any real commitment or follow-through.

There are also alarming trends of misinformation running rampant, undermining legitimate causes. And the frenetic pace of digital campaigns can lead to a lack of sustained action, diluting calls for meaningful change.

How Can Changemakers Effectively Navigate Slacktivism, Polarisation, and Misinformation?

Navigating the minefields of digital activism requires vigilance and a steadfast commitment to authenticity.

Getting trapped in the dopamine rush of likes and shares is easy, but real change demands diving deeper – conducting thorough research, nurturing thoughtful dialogues, and inspiring tangible actions.

Maintaining credibility is essential, which means modeling empathy, resisting the urge to oversimplify, and scrupulously verifying information. And when it comes to polarisation, the aim must be to unite, not divide.

What Are Some Emerging Challenger Platforms for Digital Activism?

As the dominance of major social networks begins to falter, a new breed of challenger platforms are gaining traction in the digital activism space.

These include decentralised, privacy-focused networks like Mastodon, Diaspora, and Scuttlebutt, as well as more specialised platforms such as Minds, Gab, and Okuna that cater to niche activist communities.

These alternatives offer features like ad-free experiences, open-source architectures, and blockchain-based incentives – empowering activists to circumvent the limitations and threats posed by the tech giants.

What are the Key Strategies for Successful Digital Activism in 2024 and Beyond?

Digital activists must approach their work with a focused, multifaceted multiplatform strategy to drive lasting, transformative change in the years ahead.

This means strategically using both mainstream and challenger platforms to amplify their message, while never falling into the trap of chasing quick dopamine hits from likes and shares. Instead, the emphasis must be on building genuine connections, nurturing thoughtful dialogues, and inspiring tangible actions within their communities.

Above all, maintaining credibility as a voice of reason in the digital landscape will be paramount. Adaptability, long-term commitment, and an unwavering focus on real-world impact will be essential for navigating the evolving digital activism landscape.

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By Matt
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I'm the Creative Director at Bona Parle. I'm also a freelance portrait and headshot photographer, award-winning filmmaker, film Colourist and a multi-award winning LGBTQ+ human rights campaigner. For part of my week I lead a successful UK-based charity that brings families closer to together.