Edited by Ann Marie Elpa and Naomi Litwack
With the rise of social movements such as Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and #NeverAgain, “activism” has become a popular buzzword and an easily acquired label. Suddenly, everyone and their grandmother is an activist, however many of today’s activists are taking the “active” out of activism, as their social/political change is confined to Instagram hashtags and Facebook petitions. With the rise of social media as a perpetuator of activism now simply tweeting a hashtag such as #BellLetsTalk during mental health awareness month now awards one the self-title of an ‘activist’. However, these “activists” fail to recognize the true definition of advocacy which is defined as “a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action in support of, or against a social issue.” Those supposed activists tweeting from their phones beneath their sheets at night do not deserve the title of an activist at all, as this cannot be defined as vigorous action. In fact, a more fitting title for these individuals would be slacktivists, which is defined as “actions performed from the internet, in support of political or social change that involve little time or effort.”
So what is to blame for the growth of slacktivism? Many will be quick to point the finger at social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, however, social media can be a positive contributor to activism in its true definition. Additionally, for individuals who are not able to participate in activism due to disabilities or triggering subject matter of the movement, online activism is equally valuable and contributive to social movements. When social media is used to mobilize action, social justice movements can have exponential levels of success, support, and involvement. A huge example of this is the #NeverAgain Movement, during which American high school students who had survived the Parkland shooting appeared on mainstream news media, questioned politicians, and spoke out against America’s lack of firearms policies at largely attended rallies. Social media created an additional platform for dialogue and allowed for the organization of protest, however, a large portion of these student’s activism involved non-social media reliant activities. A study by the University of British Columbia states that one of the causes of slacktivism arises from individuals’ “impression management”, meaning the way they are perceived by other people. By participating in pseudo-activism, they are viewed as more caring, compassionate, and socially aware than they actually are. The study also states that individuals feel a sense of “peer pressure” when they are publicly asked to participate in a social movement, therefore they feel an obligation to say yes.
Although slacktivist culture rooted in peer pressure is non ideal, it does still create an opportunity for dialogue about social issues. A slacktivist isn’t going to a protest or to volunteer at a voting registration drive anyway but maybe their petition signature and article sharing will inspire somebody else to get more involved while still forwarding the conversation. Online activism is nevertheless an important catalyst for changing mindsets, with the hopeful effects of affecting change in the real world.