• 01.10.13

Causes Acquires Votizen: Great Step Forward For Clicktivism?

Both companies have attracted millions in funding and Silicon Valley buzz, but have yet to actually make much of an impact., the Facebook app and website started by Sean Parker, has acquired one of Parker’s other investments, , for an undisclosed sum.


While the role of social media in politics is obviously here to stay, the social utility of do-gooder platforms like these in converting political feelings into political action has yet to be demonstrated. Of nearly 200 million registered users on Causes, only 10 million–around 5%–were active last month. Votizen, despite attracting 200 million registrations, goes moribund between election cycles, and has been cited as a factor in only one election–no surprise, that of San Francisco’s mayor.

There may be something missing in the theory of change behind these two sites. Social science research tells us that what’s most powerful in getting out the vote is face-to-face contact. Votizen, by contrast, diverts supporters of local candidates to conduct “virtual precinct walks.” While there is some demonstrated positive real-world effect to hearing from one’s social network about political causes and candidates, what’s not clear is that people want to join and participate in dedicated social networks just for this purpose.

By the same token, truly innovative nonprofits like use their website as a platform to connect people with real demonstrable actions and quick results–in this case, helping individual teachers and students with supplies for classroom projects.
Even an all-online social good platform like has a single clear offline purpose: collecting signatures for petitions to be delivered to leaders and organizations. Causes lacks a single cause or clear thread connecting it to the real world.

About the author

She’s the author of Generation Debt (Riverhead, 2006) and DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education, (Chelsea Green, 2010). Her next book, The Test, about standardized testing, will be published by Public Affairs in 2015.