Generation Slacktivist

Before you accuse me of unfairly pointing fingers…let me cop to one of my most painful self-reflections.

I’m a terrible slacktivist.

I regularly “join” campaigns by posting on my blog, liking on Facebook, retweeting on Twitter and more. Raising money for a good cause? I’ll retweet. Want people to know about a terrible disease that is sweeping through a third world country? I’ll like your status update.

Slacktivism (sometimes slactivism or slackervism) is a term formed out of the words slacker and activism. The word is usually 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 tend to require minimal personal effort from the slacktivist. The underlying assumption being promoted by the term is that these low cost efforts substitute for more substantive actions rather than supplementing them, although this assumption has not been borne out by research. [1]

Slacktivist activities include signing Internet petitions,[2] joining a community organization without contributing to the organization’s efforts, copying and pasting of Social Networkstatuses or messages or altering one’s personal data or avatar on social network services. (source: Wikipedia)

I mean well, I really do. I’m so inspired by people that donate their time and money to worthy causes, and I always start by thinking that *this* will be the time I do my research, contribute and make a difference.

Then life gets in the way. And while I’d love to say I’m motivated to help every great cause around, some are more personal than others. Those get my limited resources — a small donation; a few hours of volunteer work. Everything else gets a cursory atta-boy through social media.

The most recent example is “Kony 2012,” the viral campaign run by Invisible ChildrenĀ to end an African warlord’s reign of terror. He’s a terrible, terrible man. There’s no argument against the desire for his capture or killing. Men, women and children are living through hell, and the campaign certainly raised awareness about his atrocities.

Why do I know so much about the campaign? Because of status updates from friends, urging everyone to watch the 30-minute documentary that Invisible Children produced. Because it made “Access Hollywood” and the covers of newspapers and magazines. But I have not watched the full video — just highlights — and I have not, and probably will not, contribute money. - I'm anti-Kony almost as much as I'm anti-your-anti-Kony Facebook posts.

It’s not just because there are questions about the organization behind the video (there are), or because I’m not sure how much of a difference I can make (I’m not). There’s no specific reason that I have not been driven to follow up on all of the attention that this video is getting.

I know that my likes and retweets help raise awareness and pass on the message, and there’s a small victory in that. But it feels hollow — as in, how can I expect my friends and followers to take action on something if the best I can do is a 3-second action in social media? - Sorry your video of farting kittens didn't go as viral as one about a murderous African warlord
If this feels like a brain dump, it’s because it is. I’m not alone in Generation Slacktivist:

So, tell me what you think — is slacktivism an OK thing, because it helps spread the message to people that can and will act? Or is it a sign that our generation needs to get off our butts and do more than tweet?

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  1. says

    I just read an interesting article about this (I’ll try to find it, I think it was maybe on Mashable) saying how slacktivism does exist, but in the case of the Kony thing, it’s not really accurate. The film maker’s goal was to “make Kony famous” by having people socially share the movie, which worked. Now people know who Kony is. I’m not paraphrasing very well. Let me try to find the article.

    Here it is:

  2. says

    I also think that the problem with the Kony thing more than causing slacktavism, is that so many people re-posted or tweeted the video without doing their homework. Regardless of what you think of the organization, I’d venture to say that most people who posted this video did not look up anything about it after seeing it.

    I’ll stop commenting now!

  3. says

    Change happens when people actually get off their butts and do something. I am in charge of a political group which organizes young professionals (those out of college that are 17-40). It is so difficult to get young people to come to meetings and participate in community projects.

    Just showing up can be so powerful and when people of all ages are reticent to do so, young people showing up in large groups can make a difference.

  4. says

    This post totally speaks to me. I just started this “JustCoz” campaign on my Twitter where the ap shoots a tweet out daily telling people to be aware of breast cancer and donate. For most of my life, I’ve wanted to work with Breast cancer patients, researchers etc. But as of today, this once daily tweet is it. It’s like you say, life gets in the way (how do I start a Cancer Research Organization when an unexpected bill for $500.00 that I don’t have just showed up in the mail?) You saw the same thing when the Troy Davis debacle happened— my timeline was filled with people upset, angry and confused but that’s all they did… Tweet about it. In this age of social media and social networking, we think that putting forth the effort to express our thoughts / positions is all that is necessary to help others, when really we need so much more. In that way, social media encourages laziness… our passions are reduced to a facebook status while we go out with friends for drinks.

  5. says

    The whole Kony 2012 thing really scared me. It scared me how much it was posted and reposted and yet not one of the people who posted it looked any deeper into it. And then when I found out how horrible Invisible Children is, no one seemed to want to hear about it. And then when I saw this article I had to share it again.

    It’s scary how you can make millions off of slactivists, of which not even a third of the proceeds will go the cause. The whole thing sickens me.

  6. says

    I think its okay, its accepted and normal at the moment, however, when you look at what the older generation think of it they are usually of the opinion that its a total waste of time. Now where will it progerss? How much worst will it get, what will we think of the next generaton and their way of doing things? Just how much slacker can we get…… my troubled answer would be “a lot”.

  7. says

    Katy, I’m so glad you brought this up because I’ve been struggling with the same feelings, specifically re Kony. After I watched the video (which I discovered from a co-worker’s Facebook post), I initially thought “wow, they’re smart to celebritize (definitely not a real word) him since their target audience for raising awareness for his arrest is clearly a young demographic.” But after some reflection, I felt troubled by the concept. And like you, it wasn’t necessarily because of the negative claims about the organization. I knew that so many people tweeting and Facebooking about this were only doing so because it was “trending,” and not because they were that knowledgable about the topic or even serious about being an activist for the issue. Invisible Children’s goal is to raise awareness so that ultimately this horrendous criminal is brought to justice. But how effective are tweets and Facebook posts and wearing cool bracelets in doing this? I wonder how many people who watched the Kony film will do more than just wear the bracelet – how many will actually call their senators and congresspeople, how many will do further research. But then again, I feel like this is a common conundrum with so much activism. I’m clearly still torn on the issue, and I feel conflicted myself, but I’m glad you sparked this discussion.

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