Cyber activism or digital friends?
New digital technologies are opening up different ways for supporters to join and affiliate with parties and other political organizations. This is occurring in two main ways:
1) through ‘purpose built’ hub sites developed by organisations through which they can recruit volunteers and support and individuals sign up with an email address
2) through the use of third party software provided through platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Flickr in which the organisations and their supporters can create a new ‘space’ for sympathisers and interested individuals to find out more information and undertake certain actions on their behalf.
The former approach is resource intensive and is more designed to tap into and promote existing offline activists to do more online, also it gives greater control to the organisational elites to manage and monitor activities. The latter approach creates a looser affiliation to the organization – producing what we might call ‘digital friends’ – but is less costly and more genuinely ‘grassroots’ in orientation.
One strategy does not preclude the other and ideally an organisation might promote both cyber activism and digital friends as new forms of association. It may be that the latter forms a pathway to the former.
To date there has been limited academic work addressing these developments and so the area is ripe for some collaborative study between researchers and practitioners into what works to stimulate online activism. What is clear from some early empirical analysis on this topic is that members are in favour of being able to carry out organisational activities online such as voting on policies or in leadership elections, although those joining online do appear to be somewhat more passive in participatory terms than those who have more traditional entry path. With the growth of internet use in general and social media in particular with its new viral and networking possibilities, the door is open for organisations to think more strategically about how to harness and exploit this new digital ‘people power’.