#Slacktivism – Feel-Good Activism or the First Step Towards Actual Help?


So sad… 😦



We all have at least one Facebook friend, who we sometimes happen to be slightly irritated by, due to the amount of shared videos or posts about sad stories of children suffering of severe hunger, abused little puppies or political scandals, just to name a few. But, to be honest, how many times have you self clicked “like” or even shared a post or retweeted something out of pure compassion, with only having very little knowledge on the cause?

To be fair, it is almost always based on good intentions (narcissistic aims to be neglected) of changing the situation to a better one, and to make your Facebook friends aware of this “shocking” fact. Sharing articles and posts is ultimately an easy way to show your concern by making minimum effort, and thus has become increasingly documented in recent years. But does it actually help change?

Criticism of “Slacktivism”

The practicality of such campaigns has been in doubt for quite a while, with criticism leading to a new expression being created. “Slacktivism”, a combination of the terms “slackers” and “activism”, stresses the cynical review towards these social media campaigns very clearly. Some people argue, social media activism is rather “Slacktivism” – actions of very little effort in order to feel better and think of yourself as someone who did something of great value for society, when in fact it usually is not effective in practical matters. Besides the periphrases Slacktivism, “Clicktivism” is another expression that downgrades the act of clicking on Facebook or Twitter in order for the slacktivists to feel that he or she has helped to support a cause. It does not only save time, Slacktivism is also seen as much more convenient compared to protesting outside, handing out information brochures, or signing petitions. Is Slacktivism the result of a “lazy” Generation Y, which is not committed enough to participate in real action? Or is it rather the modern way of starting revolutions?


Social Media Activism – Chances and Limitations

Currently, two camps dominate the whole debate on social media activism and campaigns. One is favouring it, for the purpose of creating awareness in topics that are not as well known or neglected in the mass media and thus can initiate change. Such movements have been seen in cases like the Arab spring, which has been mainly made possible through spreading in formation through social media.

Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 22.57.30

In contrast, there are those who consider social media campaigns as a hazard to both the willingness of“actual help”, for example donations, and also to participate in actions that may be seen as positive but have an unknown effect. A study has shown that “if people are able to declare support for a charity publicly in social media it can actually make them less likely to donate to the cause later on.” Thus, there is evidently a high risk of would-be donors to skip their donations, when chances to show public support for charities in social media are offered.

Kony 2012

A repeatedly stated example for Slacktivism is the well-known Kony 2012 campaign, an emotionally powerful short film about a Central African warlord who is blamed for decades of killings and violence in Uganda and neighboring countries. Once the video went online, it was met with continuously retweets and watched by tens of millions of people. But the organization behind the movie, Invisible Children, quickly had to face questions on a number of aspects, including their financing and the unsteady conception of Kony during the time period. Additionally, the risk of spreading allegations without building a sound opinion on a particular topic previously, as it was often stated after the video went viral, is a very dangerous method. Kony only had a respectively small amount of followers anymore and was not a main threat to Ugandan society, whereas the video itself happened to have a negative impact in terms of a widespread misconception of a poor and powerless country, where “white heroes” are needed to take on action. Even though it is seen as one of the most successful social media campaigns, the long-term impact to the movement is lacking.

a provocative approach

Another remarkable initiative on the issue of Slacktivism was published by UNICEF Sweden. The humanitarian organisation chose to encourage people with the campaign “Facebook Likes Don’t Save Lives” to commit to traditional actions, by donating money rather than Facebook likes. The difference between Slacktivism and “real action” has been emphasized through a statement saying “like us on Facebook and we will vaccinate zero children against polio” accompanied with a short video on the same topic.

It appears that there is a huge difference in sharing information through social media in order to create awareness, and the false belief that the sole action of liking a Facebook post actually changes the situation.

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Reflect on your own social media behavior and get involved

At the end of the day, every social media user has to decide for themseleves, what the effect of sharing, retweeting or liking a post will equate to. Furthermore “feel-good” activism is unfortunately discouraging people in expressing their disagreement with global health issues, which would lead to total public abandonment of action. Hence, is judging and downgrading people’s intentions by creating terms like “Slacktivism” the right way to get people involved?

Get committed and take on further action about something that moves you, but go beyond retweeting, hashtags and likes. Social media has the power, if used right, to lead to lasting changes and to help Generation Y to get involved to #fightcorruption and #endextremepoverty.

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