Indeed, for a movement, you need numbers. And that's what Global Citizen's brand of digital activism provides.
"They need people to walk out and protest, they need people to attend a rally," Henry Jenkins, a media expert at the University of Southern California, tells CNBC Make It. "That doesn't mean those people are going to be organizers. But they are manpower, which allows them to express their concerns to political leadership."
This idea of breadth without depth is a common criticism of digital activism like Global Citizen's.
"[Global Citizen's] theory seems to be: Let's get lots of people to push for all sorts of things and the world will get better, it's kind of a shotgun approach rather than a targeted one," Leslie Lenkowsky, professor emeritus of public affairs and philanthropic studies at Indiana University Bloomington told CNBC in 2017. "It's OK but it's probably not as effective as it could be" and may not create sustained engagement, he said. (Sheldrick counters that the political and public pressure generated by the users has created concrete change.)
Micah White, one of the co-founders of the Occupy Wall Street movement, tells CNBC Make It the Global Citizen Festival is not an effective way of bringing change. It is an example of "the commercialization and cooptation of social activism" and that extreme poverty "cannot be solved by playing games on a luxury smartphone, no matter how well-intentioned are the participants," he says in an email. (Global Citizen did not comment on White's assertion.)
The problem with such a strategy, according to an opinion essay White wrote for The Guardian, is that once the excitement wears off from what he called "clicktivism," there's no change to be seen and activists become disillusioned and think there aren't any forms of effective activism at all.
But digital activism speaks to a generation of young citizens who care about social issues but may not have the tools or desire to take action on their own, according to Jenkins. The world is so complex that people cannot be deeply involved in everything, he says.
"We have to depend on a community that calls our attention to issues when they're urgent and brings us up to speed as we need, so people are getting more their information from social media," he says. He views gamified social activism like the Global Citizen Festival as a mechanism to get people who are "casually aware of political events" to take the next step and get involved.
Plus, "There's a real skepticism of institutional political change," among young people says Jenkins. "Efforts like Global Citizen provide a point of entry, or an invitation, to people who might otherwise feel unwelcome."
Disclosure: The 2018 Global Citizen Festival will be shown on MSNBC. CNBC, NBCUniversal and MSNBC are owned by Comcast.
How 'RuPaul's Drag Race' helped mainstream drag culture — and spawned a brand bringing in millions
Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!