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HOW TO IDENIFY, AND AVOID, ‘TRENDY’ ACTVISM

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

How ideas spread, and why, is a central area of discussion within cultural anthropology. In a recent class, we were encouraged to critically think beyond what we are taught on the curriculum and think about the current relevance of the subject. Specifically, universal, ‘trendy’ activism within the media, from the #BLM Movement, to drink spiking, to Russia and Ukraine. While these are evidently all important, we also discussed how many of our peer’s spread information through blindly posting hashtags and retweets that seemingly support Ukraine, which say little to nothing. Activism is a movement that does not take place solely in the streets anymore. It is unavoidable, seeping through each person’s social media feed in the form of an aesthetic infographic; an entire movement and its history is summarised into a single line. In other words, activism has evolved into ‘slacktivism.’

What is ‘slacktivism?’

A quick Google search defines ‘slacktivism’ as “the practice of supporting a political or social cause by means such as social media or online petitions, characterized as involving very little effort or commitment.” Kirk Krisofferson, Katherine White and John Peloza’s essay The Nature of Slacktivism aligns with this definition, adding that this limited online engagement does not meaningfully contribute to the cause. Examples of ‘slacktivism,’ or ‘token support’ are liking, resharing or retweeting a post. Meanwhile, they define meaningful support as active involvement within the cause, such as volunteering or donating money.

Why is it an ISSUE?

Without being overly pessimistic, I don’t doubt the concern people possess over these causes. George Floyd’s death, and the video of his murder, undoubtedly left most people feeling horrified and outraged and ashamed. Yet, I also believe that it’s because of these strong feelings that people turned to social media, in an attempt to alleviate their guilt. These initially good intentions though, can be, and have been, harmful.      

LACK OF CONSISTANCY

Continuing from The Nature of Slacktivism essay, a point was raised about token support in settings of high social observability and low social observability. The high social observability meaning posting on social media, with the low social observability perhaps referring to privately signing petitions – both acts of token support. The latter though, leads to an increased likelihood in later, more meaningful contributions.

But where has the momentum vanished of these once high profiled movements?

Something I deeply affiliated with was the #MeToo Movement. For a brief time, it was normalised for men in powerful positions to be exposed for sexual harassment, or worse. As a young teenage girl, it told me that a man’s status will no longer dictate how he can treat women. It appeared that an intolerance to silencing women’s trauma was growing. And men were also posting about how horrendous this widespread sexual abuse in Hollywood was.

Since the movement’s peak though, those same actors continue unscathed in their careers. I’ve seen an increasing concern among men that they will be falsely accused of rape. I’ve heard relentless criticism towards women for being “attention-seekers.” You post about how disgusting the commonality of sexual assault is, until it comes to calling out your own friends.

iT UNDERMINES THE CAUSE

Some people who reshare aren’t aware of the history surrounding these causes, such as the Soviet Union collapse and the subsequent independence of Ukraine and Russia. Misinformation can therefore be very easily spread. It’s much more appealing to read a Tweet summarising this conflict, rather than read an article by a scholar who’s researched this area for a decade, or from a first-hand view from someone who’s experienced this. The hashtag that’s currently trending on Twitter, #StopPutinNOW, as well as the numerous Ukrainian flag profile pictures reminds me of the naively posted black squares in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. The intention is undoubtedly to support, but again, is entirely misguided; it overshadows important footage and information.

Writer and activist Feminista Jones has been optimistic about the power of social media, stating that it has “connected us as communities.” Initially, in the wake of Floyd’s death, we saw videos being shared of police brutality. This educated us. This showed those with privileged backgrounds things which they might not have otherwise seen. Yet, these videos were soon pushed to the side by the hollow trend of posting a black square, and the confusion on whether to #BlackLives Matter or #BlackOutTuesday. On 2nd June 2020, Jones tweeted: “Erased George Floyd. Erased Breonna Taylor. Erased everything about activism. Erased everything about the protests. Blacked out a whole hashtag used to organize and disseminate information. And they got y’all to do it!!!” She explicitly expressed the dangers of mindlessly posting. Yet, it continues.

USING YOUR PLATFORM

Social media connects us and our ideas. Spreading ideas is a first step, but it’s important to realise that social media can, and has, extended beyond this and mobilized people into action. That’s what the Arab Uprisings of 2011 did. Differing from other forms of online activism, social media was a core aspect in telling the rest of the world the details of these uprisings. Arab countries’ civil society leaders have emphasized the power of social media in “acting like a megaphone more than a rallying cry” by forming a group of activists, the role networks and mobile phones have in protests, and the opportunity it provides for freedom of speech. Wael Ghonim, internet activist, additionally stresses that by connecting people, platforms like Facebook helps people deal with their fear; words on the internet alone though, do not catalyse change.

As discussed in my class, as people, we are all interlinked. To stay mindful and consistent in what we read, beyond what’s trending, allows us to learn about what seemingly doesn’t affect us. It’s not enough to post about current affairs. Social media platforms have the potential of so much power- so much good. Finding a cause or a charity that profoundly touches you or angers you; immersing yourself within it by researching, reading, talking to people, asking questions, listening, and volunteering, is perhaps the most initially beneficial for those affected. And then, to use your social media to educate others by sharing your own diligent opinion and interpretation, rather than other people’s, is a good step to becoming a constructive asset in these causes.

Footnotes

Brown, Heather, Guskin, Emily, and Mitchell, Amy. The Role of Social Media in the Arab Uprisings | Pew Research Center

Kristofferson, Kirk, White, Katherine, and Peloza, John. The Nature of Slacktivism: How the Social Observability of an Initial Act of Token Support Affects Subsequent Prosocial Action on JSTOR

Kuma, Amitava. ‘Revolution 2.0’: How Social Media Toppled A Dictator : NPR

Cara Barclay is an exchange student from the University of Manchester, currently studying at North Carolina State University. She is majoring in History and American Studies, spending time hiking and immersing herself in the competitive sporting culture; a drastic change from her life in the UK with Manchester's impressive music scene.
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