Could It Be That I’m Guilty of Being a Slacktivist?

Posted: August 21, 2014 in Uncategorized


First, let me begin this post by admitting that I had never heard of the term “slacktivism” until 10 minutes ago, when I decided to google “ice bucket challenge” because I had no idea why people all over the internet are voluntarily soaking themselves in a bucket of cold water.  Wikipedia explained that this self-induced torture was for a cause, and that soaking yourself is in lieu of donating to an ALS charity.   How is it that pouring water on yourself supports ALS?  Honestly, I have no idea, I suppose the ice bucket supporters believe they are giving ALS positive publicity.  My honest response is that this ice bucket thing is pretty slackerish.  The wikipedia article then proceeded to link all social media campaigns that remain in the digital realm as slacktivism and I had to admit to myself that this definition includes my facebook blog page and blog.  Although I concede that signing an online petition or posting political ideas to encourage discourse isn’t the same thing as maintaining a grassroots social or political movement, it does count for something, and it has the potential to impact others.  If we are all on social media the majority of the time, why not initiate or continue topics of discussion that shape our lives?  Personally, I would like to balance my random thoughts, pics of my son, family, and friends, selfies, and food posts with bigger societal issues.  It may not be appreciated by all, but it is a reflection of how my mind works and therefore a worthwhile endeavor, especially if it inspires collective action.  On the other hand, if I really want to affect change, it won’t be done while I sit on the couch.

Excerpt via Wikipedia

slacktivism (sometimes slactivism or slackervism) is a portmanteau of the words slacker and activism. The word is usually considered a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it take satisfaction from the feeling they have contributed. The acts tend to require minimal personal effort from the slacktivist. The underlying assumption being promoted by the term is that these low cost efforts substitute for more substantive actions rather than supplementing them, although this assumption has not been borne out by research.[1]

Slacktivist activities include signing Internet petitions,[2] joining a community organization without contributing to the organization’s efforts, copying and pasting of social network statuses or messages or altering one’s personal data or avatar on social network services. Research is beginning to explore the connection between the concept and modern activism/advocacy, as groups are increasingly using social media to facilitate civic engagement and collective action.[3]

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS describes the term “slacktivist”, saying it “posits that people who support a cause by performing simple measures are not truly engaged or devoted to making a change”.[4]

Despite the pejorative connotation of the term, a recent correlational study conducted by Georgetown University entitled “The Dynamics of Cause Engagement” determined that so-called slacktivists are indeed “more likely to take meaningful actions.”[9] Notably, “slacktivists participate in more than twice as many activities as people who don’t engage in slacktivism, and their actions “have a higher potential to influence others.”[9] Cited benefits of slacktivism in achieving clear objectives include creating a secure, low cost, effective means of organizing that is environmentally friendly.[10]These “social champions” have the ability to directly link social media engagement with responsiveness, leveraging their transparent dialogue into economic, social or political action.[1] Going along this mindset is Andrew Leonard, a staff writer at Salon, who published an article on the ethics of smartphones and how we use them. Though the means of producing these products go against ethical human rights standards, Leonard encourages the use of smartphones on the basis that the technology they provide can be utilized as a means of changing the problematic situation of their manufacture. The ability to communicate quickly and on a global scale enables the spread of knowledge, such as the conditions that corporations provide to the workers they employ, and the result their widespread manufacturing has on globalization. Leonard argues that phones and tablets can be effective tools in bringing about change through slacktivism, because they allow us to spread knowledge, donate money, and more effectively speak our opinions on important matters.[11]

Yet skepticism of slacktivism’s value certainly exists. Particularly, some argue that it entails an underlying assumption that all problems can be seamlessly fixed using social media, and while this may be true for local issues, slacktivism could prove ineffective for solving global predicaments.[12] A 2009 NPR piece by Morozov asked whether “the publicity gains gained through this greater reliance on new media [are] worth the organizational losses that traditional activist entities are likely to suffer, as ordinary people would begin to turn away from conventional (and proven) forms of activism.”[13]

Criticism of slacktivism often involves the idea that internet activities are ineffective, and/or that they prevent or lessen political participation in real life. However, as many studies on slacktivism relate only to a specific case or campaign, it is difficult to find an exact percentage of slacktivist actions that reach a stated goal. Furthermore, many studies also focus on such activism in democratic or open contexts, whereas the act of publicly liking, RSVPing or adopting an avatar or slogan as one’s profile picture can be a defiant act in authoritarian or repressive countries. The Western-centric nature of the critique of slacktivism discounts the impact it can have in authoritarian or repressive contexts.[14][15] Journalist Courtney C. Radsch argues that even such low level of engagement was an important form of activism for Arab youth before and during the Arab Spring because it was a form of free speech, and could successfully spark mainstream media coverage, such as when a hashtag becomes “a trending topic [it] helps generate media attention, even as it helps organize information. The power of social media to help shape the international news agenda is one of the ways in which they subvert state authority and power.”[16] In addition, studies suggest that “fears of Internet activities supplanting real life activity are unsubstantiated,” in that they do not cause a negative or positive effect on political participation.[17]

Malcolm Gladwell, in his October 2010 New Yorker article,[18] lambasted those who compare social media “revolutions” with actual activism that challenges the status quo ante. He argued that today’s social media campaigns can’t compare with activism that takes place on the ground, using the Greensboro sit-ins as an example of what real, high-risk activism looks like. “As the historianRobert Darnton has written, “The marvels of communication technology in the present have produced a false consciousness about the past—even a sense that communication has no history, or had nothing of importance to consider before the days of television and the Internet.” But there is something else at work here, in the outsized enthusiasm for social media. Fifty years after one of the most extraordinary episodes of social upheaval in American history, we seem to have forgotten what activism is.[19] In response to his criticism, Mirani argues that he might be right if activism is defined only as sit-ins, taking direct action, and confrontations on the streets. However, if activism is about arousing awareness of people, changing people’s minds, and influencing opinions across the world, then ‘the revolution will be indeed be tweeted’,[20] ‘hashtagged’,[21] and ‘YouTubed’.[22] In a March 2012 Financial Times article, referring to efforts to address the on-going violence related to the Lord’s Resistance Army, Matthew Green wrote that the slactivists behind the Kony 2012 video had “achieved more with their 30-minute video than battalions of diplomats, NGO workers and journalists have since the conflict began 26 years ago.”[23]

A study looking at college students found only a small positive correlation of those that engage online in politics on Facebook with those that engage off of it. Those who did engage only did so by posting comments and other low forms of political participation confirming the slacktavism theoretical model.[24]

Still, others keep a slightly optimistic outlook on the possibilities of slacktivism while still acknowledging the pitfalls that come with this digital form of protest. Zeynep Tufekci, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina and a faculty associate at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, analyzed the capacity of slacktivism to influence collective group action in a variety of different social movements in a segment of the Berkman Luncheon Series. She acknowledges that digital activism is a great enabler of rising social and political movements, and it is an effective means of enabling differential capacity building for protest. However, she argues that the enhanced ability to rally protest is accompanied by a weakened ability to actually impact, as slacktivism avoids building the protest to the next level needed in order to bring about change.[25]

In Western societies, where the means for real action-based activism may be openly available, slacktivism may seem annoying to more traditional activists who demean the perceived low-effort and ineffective actions taken by couch activists; people who themselves are neither activists nor slacktivists, and also do not claim to be, may perceive slacktivists as “do-gooders” who try to elevate themselves morally, while in reality achieving nothing more than the non-slacktivist.[


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