Have you heard of the term “slacktivism” yet? Even if you haven’t, I bet you’ve been a participant in some form or another:
“Slacktivism (sometimes slactivism) is a portmanteau formed out of the words slacker and activism. The word is considered a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction. The acts also tend to require little personal effort from the slacktivist.
Examples of activities labeled as “slacktivist” include signing internet petitions, the wearing of wristbands (“awareness bracelets”) with political messages, putting a ribbon magnet on a vehicle, joining a Facebook group, posting issue-oriented YouTube videos, altering one’s personal data or avatar on social network services, or taking part in short-term boycotts such as Buy Nothing Day or Earth Hour.” (Wikipedia.com)
Now let’s look at some quotes from critics of slacktivism, who shall remain nameless:
“[Slacktivism is] feel-good online activism that has zero political or social impact. It gives those who participate in “slacktivist” campaigns an illusion of having a meaningful impact on the world without demanding anything more than joining a Facebook group.”
“Slacktivism allows stupid, apathetic people to con themselves into believing they are helping make the world a better place.”
“Slacktivism is fun, easy, and builds self esteem in a cheap way.”
Now here’s my opinion on the subject, whether you want it or not.
I think it is premature to completely dismiss activities that have been classified as slacktivist. I think slacktivist activities, though different from traditional change-inducing activities, can have value.
In my mind, there is nothing different about gathering to protest in a public square or gathering in a Facebook group to support an opinion. If anything, the online gathering is safer, more cost effective, more environmentally friendly, and has the ability to draw more people. In either case, the objective is getting the attention of the people who have the ability to create the desired change.
Another popular activist activity involves creating and distributing flyers, advertisements, and op-eds. I have to ask: is a written piece any less effective if it is digital? Can a YouTube video not have as much (if not more) impact on a person’s mindset, voting habits, and opinions as a traditional print item? Here again, there are similar benefits to be found in the digital format – greater reach, cost-effectiveness, and environmental friendliness.
A slacktivist is not necessarily a lazy person. I know this because I am one, in large part. Yes, I do participate actively on two nonprofit boards and give to charity occasionally. But in large part, I do not have time or money to spend on getting involved, no matter how supportive I feel about a cause. I work full-time, do web design on the side, am working on my second master’s degree, commute 3 hours per day, and do some board service. I am also married and have a household to keep up with. I eschew most social activities and hobbies because of my schedule. It is unlikely that I will come to a protest or party (though I will wholeheartedly tell other people I know about events). I am environmentally concerned as well, so when someone on the street hands me an informational flyer, I ask if the information is available online and ask for the URL. I do not take a flyer so that I can read it and put it in the trash later.
What I do digitally to perpetuate organizations of my choice is to join and promote Causes on Facebook, tweet and re-tweet interesting information on Twitter, and connect other people to the causes I care about. The main thing I can do for any cause is to draw other people. I have larger social networks than many individuals and, while I may not be your volunteer or donor, someone I know may be. Therefore, I think there’s something to be said for simply standing up for a cause and spreading the word.
To further explore this idea, I created a continuum of activism (below) to compare and contrast levels of participation vs. levels of technology usage in regards to activism:
When considering the various aspects of activism in this light, there seems to be less difference between slacktivists and people of low involvement (which I have labeled “passive activists” for lack of a better term) than one might think. If a person is going to get involved, he or she is going to get involved. Those who are not, will not. Our challenge, as nonprofit organizations, remains the same as it always has: how do we increase the level of involvement within our base of supporters? I think what throws us off is that we have answered this question for traditional methods of activism. We know how to gain support and there is historical data to show what works, who participates, etc.
I think we have yet to figure out how to effectively engage people using technology, or at least I think that we are mostly infants in these particular skill and mindsets. I also don’t think there is a simple or fast solution to the issue – I think we will have to experience growing pains and pay for our knowledge with our mistakes as is typical of the human condition.
So my final thought, all things considered, is that we should refrain from bashing people for slacktivism. Figure out what your organization can do to increase their involvement in ways that they are able to handle. Ask me to participate in a one-time online focus group. Ask me to donate $5. Ask me to email my senator (and make sure you give me a way to look up the address easily).
A slacktivist might just be the pebble in your organization’s pond that sets off desired change. Don’t ignore or dismiss him or her because of an inability or lack of desire for high involvement.