What exactly is slacktivism? As you can probably guess, the word itself is a mash up of “slacker” and “activism.” The Oxford Dictionary online calls slacktivism, “Actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement” (Source). In short, it’s an easy way to feel good about yourself during the moment, but can be detrimental in the long term. Here’s an example of slacktivism: sharing a promotional video on Facebook about homelessness in your hometown but never taking the time to volunteer at a shelter or learn more about the problem itself.
The problem with slacktivism is that the people who are its main proponents are usually unaware of what they are doing. It creates a phony, warm-hearted feeling that you will remember only temporarily or until the next act of slacktivism comes along. Sure, sharing a picture on social media of a person holding up a sign with a written statistic about an issue like sexual assault in the US or abused animals is raising more “awareness,” but is that a true way to solve a problem? The answer here is no.
What matters is how you react to the content on your newsfeed. A proper response could be to do a quick Google search on the statistic to find out if it’s true and then begin to understand how you can play a role in supporting the original cause. Maybe if you’ve seen a post about sexual assault you could attend an on campus lecture on the topic, look up warning signs, or find out how to help a victim.
When you share links, photos, or videos on Facebook promoting a social or political cause you are perpetuating the idea that it is okay to just read a shocking statistic and then walk away from the computer and forget that it ever happened. The user who originally posted the content probably intended to make their friends consider the issue at hand and start a thoughtful discussion, not garner more likes on a picture.
One of the most relevant examples of slacktivism in our culture today is the popular ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. It’s a classic case–you can make a video and post it on Facebook or donate to the “cause.” Either way, you’ve done one small act of fundraising and raising awareness for ALS but are still no closer to solving the problem. In turn, it provides a chance for individuals to promote themselves as philanthropic and caring without having to do any actual work. To me, this is the opposite of what supporting a cause is about.
By this point you’ve probably heard both sides of the argument supporting the video craze, and opposing it. It’s an incredible example of just how powerful social media can be when it’s used for good. On the other hand, it’s also an example of how people will readily throw money at a cause they probably know little to nothing about. The Huffington Post called the Ice Bucket Challenge a “brilliant campaign for ALS” because it is indeed raising awareness and funding for the ALS Association, to which I agree with (Source). The ALS Assoc. has its financial statements listed online and they are publicly available, but as of September 3rd, 2014 they have not released an official breakdown of where exactly the Ice Bucket Challenge money is going.
Look, it’s not your fault if you got suckered into slacktivism, it really isn’t. We’ve all found ourselves falling for this online social media philanthropy numerous times. If you think about it, it’s not surprising that our generation has settled on this form of phony charity to make ourselves feel righteous. We’re obsessed with things that are of the moment. We want everything we see and we want it now! We’re impatient and sarcastic and often reluctant to spend our time doing selfless acts of volunteerism.
But hey, we’ve also got a lot of good things going for us. We’re intuitive and not easily fooled by corporations and big media because they have been a part of our lives for so long. There are advantages and disadvantages to the slacktivism movement. As Americans we can either accept the reality of this new form of activism for what it really is or we can learn how to transform it into a useful new tool.
What do you think? Is slacktivism here to stay or should we get back to the roots of what activism is all about? Leave us a comment below!