Matthew Zachary discusses how to combat click-through activism | MIT Center for Civic Media

Matthew Zachary discusses how to combat click-through activism

Our director Chris Csikszentmihályi recently described for the Washington Post what he calls "click-through activism", the propensity of people online, especially youth, to feel they are contributing to a cause simply by writing a tweet or adding their name to a Facebook cause page.

In some ways, [Csikszentmihályi] says, the ease of the medium "reminds me of dispensations the Catholic Church used to give." Worst-case scenario: If people feel they are doing good just by joining something -- or clicking on one of those become a fan of Audi and the company will offset your carbon emissions campaigns, "to what extent are you removing just enough pressure that they're not going to carry on the spark" in real life?

I was curious how click-through activism affects a national group whose organizing is done almost entirely online. So I approached Matthew Zachary---founder and CEO of I'm Too Young for This!, an online community and non-profit for young adult cancer survivors---for his thoughts.

What Zachary makes clear is that the goals, and even some of the methods, of traditional business still apply in this age of Facebook pages and ad hoc meetups. Words like "trust" and "value" are still important. "What works is the quality and value of service delivered and the trust engendered by our brand promise," he told me. "The vehicle by which that value and promise is delivered is almost arbitrary. Social media syncs with our constituency because it is a communications medium they are comfortable with and already actively engaged with."

In other words, people concerned about flash-in-the-pan click-through activism need to remember that tools like Twitter don't create community by themselves. Instead, it's jointly held values that bring certain people together. Twitter can only help communicate those values: Zachary's constituency is going to be made up of young people affected by cancer, and no matter how great his social networking tools are, it's only those young people who will stick around. Similarly, last month's Iran/Neda phenomenon had little chance of permanence because so few people---of those who "raised their tweets" in solidarity---actually had established ties to Iran. Zachary put it more bluntly to me:

The youth culture is an overly skeptical and narcissistic population. I should know, I am one of them. We are much more socially conscious but much less likely to contribute unless there's a 'what's in it for me' clause. Volunteerism is much lower than in previous generations.

But he points out that those who are engaged today are much more active, because they have the resources their parents' generation never dreamed of. The organizational structure of I'm Too Young for This!, Zachary told me, is built to take advantage of strongly shared values and technology, by giving young adult survivors the tools to enact their joint desire, to increase survivorship.