Real Versus Virtual Activism

10th March, 2018

I have been mulling over some questions I have around social media and how the virtual and digital world can occasionally fail to connect with the real and analogue – certainly when it comes to behavioural change and activism…

Don’t get me wrong social media is an amazing tool. It is great for sharing and sparking ideas.  We can send messages of love and gratitude and keep ourselves informed, remaining globally /virtually connected.

In the context of activism… It has the POTENTIAL to create change… and whilst this can lead to (and has led to) global actions for change, on a day to day level anything short of a message going viral can fall at an early hurdle.

One challenge can be the way that we measure engagement. When it comes to the virtual world, engagement is something that is measured in click rates, dwell times etc.

Did they LIKE it… Did they SHARE it?

And if so, so what…

POTENTIAL energy is awesome – it can create community and shared motivation to…. erm… well… to DO stuff!


POTENTIAL lacks impact until it is REALIZED

As an Ocean advocate, it is really evident that the most important and life-enhancing actions require a little more REAL TIME participation.

At Best

Our smart phone click leads to behaviour change (somebody is inspired and does something positive… (maybe us)… and we celebrate success with wider audiences – high five – great job!

At Worst

As our thumb moves two inches “liking, sharing or even putting a short comment”, we are all capable of falling into a trap… You see the open loop of a “call to action” we have just experienced has in this moment closed.  The action of clicking Like / Share leads us to imagine /  think to ourselves “there we go… my work here is done”…  And it is exactly at this point that the Potential can disappear into the ether.

If we are super-lucky our social media exchange inspires somebody else to take real world action, but of course as we all know… at most it is highly likely that real world action is limited to a ripple of thumb clicks.

So… Since awareness and reflection can lead to action… I figured I would ask:

  • Is this pattern something you notice in yourself?
  • Could you be taking more real world action for the causes that you digitally and virtually support so strongly?
  • Is your real world behaviour a fair reflection of the commitment you show online?

Please, please know that I certainly feel that the virtual campaigner has a role and a valid voice – of course…

So please…

  • Continue to like and share good media – this form of virtual activism inspires and educates.
  • Continue to offer useful and motivating comments and ideas.
  • Continue to sign the petitions and add your support.

Perhaps in addition if you reflect on this post and if you are physically and mentally able: I invite you to get more involved – find opportunities to join others making positive changes towards your chosen cause. Take real-time, real-space action to move your experience from virtual to real.

Fancy stirring up some collective activism?:

… Here is something you CAN do virtually…

When Facebook changed their basic click options… it struck me that, whilst they added all sorts of options…  Like, Love, Wow, Sad, Angry etc…

They missed something out… They missed out an “Active” or “Commited” option… Something that represents “Do” and could help move from vague intention to real activism.

So here is a little campaign for you… I would love to see a click option (for simplicity let’s  maybe choose a star) that represents the reader response as…

“Thank you… having seen / heard / read this… I will now actually go and DO something out in the real world as a result of this post.”

This for me would be a much better measure of engagement… Don’t you think?  It would connect the virtual world with reality and show how social and physical media relate.

If you think this post will encourage activism within others and / or if you agree re the Facebook icon point… Please Like and Share this post widely (The irony in this is noted…)

More importantly… If it encourages you to personally to take real-time action please comment below with a * and let me know what action you have taken towards your cause.

And the next time you like or share anyone else’s posts, please think what options there are for taking real action.

Thanks for all that you are and all that you do to make this a happier, healthier world.

About Lizzi Larbalestier

Professional executive coach, mBIT and NLP trainer specialising in coastal coaching. Creating meaningful conversations, facilitating action and change for the results that you deserve. #coherentleadership #bluemind


  1. Lu Overy says:

    Well expressed as ever, Lizzi.
    For me, the next step is taking anti-plastic action in the local boat club we belong to. Starting with the straws!

  2. Thanks… You are a definite activist Lu x

  3. Becky says:

    Thanks for that reminder Lizzi. I had emailed you just before reading your message to see about getting on with organising the future beach cleans.

    I will be sending a follow up email to cruise ship companies to ask why they use plastic straws in all soft drinks and suggesting they use a more eco friendly alternative or only give them when necessary.

    And maybe not an activist in the same sense as your post but I will be volunteering for Penhaligon’s Friends on Saturday to support families during their Memory Day.

    There are so many opportunity to ‘do’ even in little ways.


  4. Amazing Becky – you are another example of somebody who takes real, time real space action. Will update you re May beach clean – we have some volunteers 🙂 Also great action re straws and your memory day activity… true community spirit. Thankyou!