Online Political Mobilization from the Advocacy Group’s Perspective: Looking Beyond Clicktivism

David KarpfRutgers University

Response to Article

Stuart W. Shulman, The Case Against Mass E-mails: Perverse Incentives and Low Quality Public Participation in U.S. Federal Rulemaking


Academic observers and public intellectuals frequently criticize mass email action alerts as “slacktivism” or “clicktivism,” arguing that the lowered transaction costs of the medium produce a novel form of activism that carries with it hidden costs and dangers for the public sphere. This article challenges those claims, relying on a combination of personal observation within the advocacy community and on a new quantitative dataset of advocacy group email activity to articulate three points. First, that mass emails are functionally equivalent to the photocopied and faxed petitions and postcards of “offline” activism, and represent a difference-of-degree rather than a difference-in-kind. Second, that such low-quality, high-volume actions are a single tactic in the strategic repertoire of advocacy groups, thus reducing cause for concern about their limited effect in isolation. Third, that the empirical reality of email activation practices has little in common with the dire predictions offered by common critiques. The article responds to a previous Policy & Internet article: “The Case Against Mass E-mails.” 1 (1).

Recommended Citation

Karpf, David (2010) “Online Political Mobilization from the Advocacy Group’s Perspective: Looking Beyond Clicktivism,” Policy & Internet: Vol. 2: Iss. 4, Article 2.
DOI: 10.2202/1944-2866.1098
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