The old adage “Talk is cheap” is a decent place to start if we want to understand the growing divide between slacktivism and activism.
Slacktivism is defined as actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement, e.g., signing an online petition or joining a campaign group on a social media website.
Author Malcolm Gladwell coined the term in his 2010 New Yorker article entitled “Small Change, Why the revolution will not be tweeted”; though it should be known that the presence of slacktivism predates its coining and has only grown since.
One must concede that at face value slacktivism is not all bad. Social media has been influential and has achieved what other channels of communication have always tried to do – inform. We can conveniently connect, share and like new ideas.
The spread of information that brings awareness of critical issues is higher than ever. In conceding the benefits of slacktivism let us not forget that it’s only a step in the direction of activism or full involvement in a cause.
Activism requires a boots-on-the- ground approach. A simple example of the slacktivism-activism process can be found in the 2008 U.S. Presidential election. President Obama is one of the first presidents to successfully utilize social media and the Internet.
While liking, sharing and tweeting of those who were not directly involved in the inner circle of President Obama’s campaign could be ultimately seen as influential in the winning of the election – they weren’t. The activist voter produced such a result. This is a simple example of the difference. While “slacktivists” spread positive information and generated buzz, only voters—activists—could determine the outcome.
The Kony 2012 campaign will always be a slacktivism case study. The Ugandan Warlord Joseph Kony was purposefully made famous through a 30-minute viral video. While the video produced over 100 million views and 3.7 million pledges, it fell to the culture of slacktivism.
Money was made and helpful information was spread but the campaign never transitioned from slacktivism to activism. The Kony 2012 campaign website, invisiablechildren.com, says it best, “But knowing is only half the battle – Joseph Kony is still out there.”
One of the real issues of slacktivism is staying power. “You believe you are serving a greater purpose by simply clicking. Social media campaigns only have staying power of a couple weeks. It’s a flash in the pan issue,” said UVU Communication Professor, Dr. David Morin. He currently teaches social media courses on campus and is well versed in it.
A to-date illustration would be the ALS Ice bucket Challenge Campaign. A campaign used to raise funds and awareness about Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, aka Lou Gehrig’s disease. The 2014 campaign has raised over $94 million compared to last years $2.7 million. It is important to remember that raising money is only a small piece of the pie.
Slacktivism has raised money for the ALS association, but they are not merely a fundraising group. They are contributing with research, care and treatment of those who are fighting ALS. Don’t be so awestruck with the funds that we forget the activists who are doing more than donating – the doctors, patients, service volunteers and family and friends of those that are fighting for their lives.
Don’t read this wrong, slacktivism only hurts you if that’s where you draw the line. Step into activism. Take on a long commitment and become involved in something, not just informed or in the know. Instead of simply liking a story or quick video about service or empathy, perform it.