There’s no denying that the internet, in particular social media, has been an incredibly useful tool when it comes to spreading word on just about anything. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr mean that celebrity news reaches people nearly immediately, and provide a place for people worldwide to discuss and debate social issues. Links to petitions and public service announcements are shared and spread by thousands of users, but is it actually effective?
Many people say “no” – they regard this kind of “activism” as “slacktivism”, focusing on the apparent laziness of the current generation, and think that clicking a button instead of putting in any real work for charitable or social cause is simply the easy, and not every effective option. Others believe that the global network that these sites provide have been a massive step in spreading awareness and education of sociopolitical issues, and easily allow people, particularly young people, to get an insight from people from all walks of life that they wouldn’t necessarily converse with otherwise. Before the information age, people didn’t know much about what was going on in other parts of the world, and it was much easier to disregard things happening far away as not affecting us.
I’m in two minds, as I think it completely depends on which actions we’re talking about. The things that I regard as inefficient “slacktivism” are the trends that people seem to view as a game more than sociopolitical or charitable activism. One that springs to mind is the so-called raising awareness for breast cancer, where women post a statement such as “I like it on the tabletop”, which is meant to seem sexual but is actually meaning the location of their handbag, or “I am going to Germany in 12 weeks”, which I can’t even remember what it was referring to. The biggest issue with these, in my eyes, is that because they’re cryptic, no one actually knows what they’re about! So in effect it does absolutely nothing to raise awareness. How does, as a man, seeing one of these statuses without being clued in to the reason (which is meant to be kept completely secret from men) going to raise awareness to me about breast cancer? Also, women who haven’t been clued in will also not gain anything from it. That it excludes men is also a massive problem, as men too suffer from breast cancer, but this is not known by many people.
Another issue I regard as “slacktivism” is the campaigns of changing your profile pictures to combat child abuse, for example. While everyone tends to be more clued in as to the reasons for this, simply changing a picture does absolutely nothing to contribute to charities for children’s protection, or to raise awareness regarding being vigilant about the signs of possible abuse. Many people simply change the picture and do nothing more, but it’s important to supplement it with links of information, to charities who work in the field, etc.
However, many people who cry “slacktivism” are not actually contributing themselves to sociopolitical issues or charitable purposes. At least “slacktivists” actually believe that they are making a contribution, and this intent is due credit even if not very effective. They also lump any kind of internet campaigning into the category of “slacktivism” without giving attention to the success stories. Personally, I think it’s fantastic that the world can come together online, and it’s a joy to see young people in deep discussion about sociopolitical issues, even if it can be problematic at times. People’s eyes are being opened to issues that don’t necessarily affect them in their everyday lives, and they become better people by learning about various issues like supporting LGBT rights, feminism, or combating racism or other rampant prejudices in the everyday sector.
Furthermore, many petitions DO work. I am part of various petition sites such as Avaaz and AllOut, whose petitions cover many different issues and have actually seen success. They range from putting international pressure on countries such as Russia re the anti-gay laws and the Brazilian government re cutting down of rainforests, to seemingly “smaller” issues such as asking brand names to remove sexist labeling from their products. A current highlight on Avaaz’s website is the success of working with the Maasai community in Tanzania to prevent their eviction from their lands in order to bring in tourists to hunt wildlife; another is the success of a petition that led Maldivian president to intervene in a flogging sentence of a young rape survivor for having consensual sex with a partner. AllOut’s Project Relocation has successfully relocated thirteen people who were on Iraq’s “Kill Lists” for being gay or suspected of being gay, and led to a reform of the Dutch government’s refugee policy to help others in this situation. These are no small feats, nor even the petitions to get British supermarket Asda to remove a transphobic card from its shelves.
I support charity outwith online petitions and spreading information; I volunteer for a local charity that aids the homeless, an animal charity, and at a cat shelter, and pay monthly to Oxfam. However, this is limited by my health issues, and anyway, other people can’t devote such time to charities for health and other reasons! I think it’s great that we can take a few minutes to do something small such as signing a petition; after all, raindrops in their millions make oceans. It’s fantastic if people do have the time and resources to donate directly to charities, but it’s also those who spread the word who contribute to the difference.
The next time you condemn someone as being a “slacktivist”, make sure that you’re actually making some sort of contribution yourself, whether it’s patronizing charity stores, making donations, giving your time to charitable organizations, or simply by signing petitions or educating yourself on sociopolitical issues. I will repeat that even if a “slacktivist”‘s actions are not necessarily effective, at least they’re making an effort and believe they’re doing the right thing rather than hypocritically demonizing others for a lack of action.
To “slacktivists”: next time you receive a message in your inbox to post a cryptic status based on breast cancer awareness and are told not to elaborate what the reason behind the status, consider instead to make a small post about cancer and cancer awareness and post in a credible link that people can go to for more information. We all know that breast cancer exists, so doing something “in the name” of breast cancer without actually adding information, outside links, or perhaps donation links, doesn’t actually do much to raise awareness.