The modern day activist: the SLACKTIVIST

Have you ever changed your Facebook display picture to show your support for those in crisis?

Or retweeted a post with a catchy #hashtag?

Signed an online petition?

Shared a video of social injustice?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you may be guilty of Slacktivism.

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Slacktivism /ˈslaktɪvɪz(ə)m/

Actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement, for example signing an online petition or joining a campaign group on social media. (Oxford Dictionary 2017)

 

Slacktivism a term coined originally in a positive manner as “bottom up activities by young people to affect society on a small person scale” (Christensen 2011), is now commonly used to negate “activities that do not express a full-blown political commitment”(Christensen 2011).

The term places an emphasis on the blurred lines between an activist, slacktivist and a non-activist, suggesting there “is a right way and a wrong way to contribute to a cause” (Clements 2015). Activism is often perceived as a long term activity, and hence the changing of one’s Facebook display picture to match the current social issue is seen as more self serving than of that for the cause. The complexities of activism in the social media sphere is vast, and while can be ineffective in many aspects, has also seen incredible successes. Then again, that depends on how we define success. If raising awareness is what the social issue needs -a social media can be an extremely effective measure in achieving that. It requires “little time or involvement” and can turn a cause into a movement, providing often needed exposure.

To me it seems obvious that people are going to be more inclined to engage in activism that is accessible, easy and inexpensive. Earl and Kimport (2013) seem to agree with me, arguing that the internet has provided “sharply reduced costs for creating, organizing, and participating in protest; and the decreased need for activists to be physically together in order to act together.”

In this sense, is slacktivism not the way activists have adapted to the ever developing media spaces?

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Looking at the idea of slacktivism as a self serving act, many researchers have commented on the idea of social gain vs. social change, and the power of social media platforms to transform “social issues into cultural capital” (Corrigan (2016);Reich (2016)). Scrolling through my news feed, it is evident the trends that rise and fall throughout my social media platforms, whether it be #WaronWaste or #plebbyshite, sharing of these provides a sort of status symbol. The ‘trending’ nature of slacktivism places a moral pressure on people, and in doing so makes social issues a sort of click bait. Not only that, it taints the decision making process with the prospect of social rewards, as an example, people may think I am informed and care about those less fortunate if I share this post about homelessness (Clements 2015).

In saying that is it ignorant to think that we cannot have social change if we have social gain?

Surely in the modern day world ‘real’ activism cannot be the only way for collectively pressing for change (Earl 2016).

 

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Then again, is this different when a politician or someone of power is trying to push their own agenda? (Ahem Donald Trump)

Is our habit of ‘retweeting’ or ‘sharing’ the most recent social issue, leading us to have a false sense of morality?

Does our inaction (past the point of ‘sharing’) despite our increased accessibility to information about these issues, not make us guiltier of perpetuating social injustice?

Is slacktivism enabling “us to be lazy, cowardly, and, in return, to feel good about it”(Robertson 2014)?


I want to explore the concept of slacktivism, and the questions I have come across in research for this blog. I am hoping to explore more information on the topic before deciding exactly which direction to head, however believe it is very difficult to find a definite answer to slacktivism. It is a broad topic, and I may need to narrow it down, for example focus on politics, or marketing campaigns.

I will focus on activism in the social media sphere in low risk situations (generally democratic countries). I believe in many parts of the world it is dangerous to use social media as a platform for activism, and hence does not come under the term slacktivism.

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