Is slacktivism really ineffective?
Do you remember seeing a post on your social media that said something along the lines of like or share this picture to help orphans in Uganda? Maybe it was not orphans in Uganda, and It was pandas, or stopping oil pipelines from being built. Regardless of what it was, when you liked that post or shared that picture, you were not actually helping, you were promoting slacktivism. Slacktivism is a term from the early 90’s that as google defines it “is 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.” Liking that post about orphan pandas in oil pipelines was a great start to being socially active but that’s it- it is just the start. The problem is that most people- including you leave it at that- you see a post that provokes emotion from you- it angered you, or it made you sad or happy and yet once you mashed that like button you moved on briskly to the next post. There was not a step past that. And I’m sorry to say it but you did not help the little orphan pandas.
Slacktivism, homophily, and filter bubbles.
While slacktivism is not the best method of engaging in civic activism, it does have a slight upside seeing that it spreads awareness. And due to social media, a lot of the issues we are aware of are because of a slacktivism mentality, where many people like, share, and comment on something sending it viral yet very few of those people engage in making a change. But the problem is people can be aware of wrong doings and acts that go against their morals and they can still turn a blind eye to them. The other thing to be aware of is the creation of filter bubbles (Parker, 2017). So, in practice filter bubbles are spaces that you reside in where everything you see, and experience is something related to things you have seen and experienced before. There is a bit of monotony to it but monotony for most people can be comfortable and as the book Twitter and tear gas explains people like to be in situation where they are surrounded by familiar people, mindsets or experiences, and that is experience of people seeking out others who see things the same way you do is called homophily. (Tufekci, 2017)
The reality of the short life of viral campaigns.
The problem with the social media age and being constantly exposed to viral social movements is that there is a lack of meaningful engagement with the cause at hand, for instance in 2016 when Paris was attacked, Facebook offered a filter of the French flag over user’s profile photos to show solidarity with the people of Paris. Many people changed their profile photo in solidarity yes, but not much was done afterwards and in a true slacktivist fashion it was quickly forgotten weeks later. There were no lasting real-world contributions to the people of Paris by this display of camaraderie. And while yes this filter may have given users the warm feeling of helping- it is an ineffective way of corralling people for the common good, and as Scientific American (Press, 2017) explained viral campaigns that are aimed at enticing civic engagement are often short lived. In another example in 2014 the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls spread like wildfire through social media after reports of 200 girls were kidnapped in Nigeria by the terrorist organization Boko Haram however as reported by Hana Muslic in 2017 “millions of people (even celebrities) participated in posts using the hashtag. It sounds like a recipe for big change, but a year later, the girls were still missing and use of the hashtag had dwindled. So though millions contributed to the campaign on social media, little actual effort was taken by the same supporters.”
Feeling good about…what?
The thing about being a slacktivists is that most slacktivists do not even know that they are one. (think about it how many posts have you retweeted on twitter and did not give it a second though about helping the cause or volunteering your time.) But by liking, sharing, or retweeting the post, it made you feel as though you did do something, it gave you a feeling of completion and as the Feminist Approaches to Media Theory and Research put it “participating in a small way—through spreading a hashtag, for example—may liberate their consciousness and make them less likely to engage in more involved forms of activism” (Chen, 2018) - and before you say it, yes you like may create a larger awareness for other people to view it and therefore they may become active in the panda oil pipeline campaign but its more likely that your passiveness will travel along to other passivists clicking and liking away at photos that they have no intention or intent to help the cause in need. And as Yu-Hao Lee Mentions in his article:
“Supporters of online activism argue that social media can be used to reach a wider group of people by raising awareness or knowledge. The simple actions invite people who may otherwise never take traditional civic actions to partake in a collective action. Many points to various examples where slacktivism has directly or indirectly benefitted collective goods at never seen before scales, from raising millions of charitable contributions in a few days (i.e., donations after earthquake), to increasing awareness in contrast, critics of slacktivism argue that these actions merely make people “feel good” about themselves. Not only are the contributions to actual social change limited, partaking in slacktivism may even be harmful to future actions because it satisfies people’s motivations to take action but does not really have an effect.”
Who is less active? Millennials or generation Z?
So, we know that slacktivism doesn’t really engage users in a way that is effective in properly promoting and perusing lasting examples of civic engagement, but it is good at creating and pushing forward viral awareness. It is also important to note the effect that it has on our youngest generation. Generation Z, the generation that was born after 1995, The oldest of which are just finishing college or getting ready for the work force grew up on social media as digital natives and may be more likely to get to physically get involved with social activism than Millennials? Why is that? This is the group that is truly engaged online fully. They are more likely to be engaged in social media because they use platforms like Facebook at less rates than millennials. On the other hand, millennials are more likely to engage in slacktivism, mostly for competitive purposes like is ALS ice bucket challenge from five years ago.
Putting an end to slacktivism…forever?
Slacktivism isn’t something that will change or go away but we can take the steps needed to fully motivate and persuade people to move from their computer screens and to become more traditionally engaged with social activism and by doing thing like incorporating more local resources with viral causes or giving direct ways to donate, we can attempt to keep slacktivists at bay. Another way is that people are more likely to contribute to a cause or help if they see their close peers participate, as we saw in the 2014 ALS ice bucket challenge, the important thing is not promoting competitiveness over activism. So, the way that we create and mold our call to action is equally important to the cause we are calling awareness to. Its also important to keep in mind that social media is not a place for inciting or expecting change to happen, it is however a tool to connect people to create that change.
In reality slacktivism is not going anywhere because it is not entirely a bad thing, there will always be a post or a cause that people passively support by liking, commenting, or sharing with their friends, but just keep in mind that change always starts with the act of one step. So the next time you are on social media and see something that boils your blood and you finally decide that it is time that you should go outside and help the little orphan pandas stuck in oil pipelines, just do it, skip the like button and instead choose to Google ways to help, donate to their cause, talk about it with your peers. Use social media for what it is. A step to get out there and support a cause. Because as Jamie Hodari from the Washington Post put it ““Slacktivism” has been cast as a threat to more traditional forms of activism. But it’s not. It’s a spur, a reminder of how those around you are feeling, and a kick in the pants to get involved in other ways.”
Hodari, J. (2017, February 2). In praise of slacktivism: Your cliche Facebook post can still make a difference. Retrieved from The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2017/02/02/in-praise-of...
Muslic, H. (2017, June 20). What is Slacktivism and is it Even Helping? Retrieved from Non profit hub: https://nonprofithub.org/social-media/what-is-slacktivism-does-it-help/
Parker, E. (2017, May 22). In praise of echo chambers. Retrieved from The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/democracy-post/wp/2017/05/22/in-prai...
Press, Y. U. (2017, February 15). The Surprisingly Short Life of Viral Social Movements. Retrieved from Scientific American: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-surprisingly-short-life-o...
Roy, S. (2015, November 15). Why I Won't Be Changing My Facebook DP In Solidarity With Paris. Retrieved from Huffington Post: https://www.huffingtonpost.in/2015/11/16/paris-facebook-picture_n_857236...
Tufekci, Z. (2017). Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest. New Haven, CT, USA: Yale University Press.
Lee, Yu-Hao & Hsieh, Gary. (2013). Does slacktivism hurt activism?: The effects of moral balancing and consistency in online activism. Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems - Proceedings. 811–820. 10.1145/2470654.2470770.
Chen, Gina & Pain, Paromita & Barner, Briana. (2018). “Hashtag Feminism”: Activism or Slacktivism?. 10.1007/978-3-319-90838-0_14.