Please like and share, and save the world! Slacktivism – what is it?

by Peppi-Emilia Airike on October 14, 2013

in Uncategorized

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Photo source: gwangjublog

The Information and Communications Technology (ICT), especially Internet, allows people to expand their knowledge and widen their worldviews, access and share information fast, and learn what is currently happening on the other side of the world. In the globalized world, citizens also become familiar with negative global issues such as poverty, growing inequality, world hunger, child mortality, human rights violations, undemocratic practices, discrimination, and civil conflicts. Nowadays an average person concerned about these issues can rather easily do something and raise one’s voice about injustice and other salient topics. This is made possible with the help of the modern technology, Internet, and especially new media tools.

It seems that it has never been easier to take part for example in global development related discussions and to support a good cause than it is now.  In contrast to the times when our grandparents and parents climbed to barricades to protest with ‘Peace & Love’ signs, we can now raise our voice  and support a certain cause rather effortlessly with the help of  new media applications, such as social media sites. Social media often seems to be seen as a panacea for many different development challenges.  All it takes from us is a ‘mouse click’ and we can become active participants in global development work. Or is it that simple?

It was in the early years of social media when both people and organizations were  merely concentrating to be known and famous in the social media world, and they primarily wished to gain more likes, followers, and connections. In 2013, however,  many development organizations have recognized and even publicly stated, that mere ‘clicks’ in social media, such as ‘likes’ and ‘shares’, don’t save the world.

Slactivism is a term used when referring to online activism that requires only little effort.  Examples are hitting the like button in Facebook or becoming a follower of a particular cause or campaign in Twitter. According to the Oxford Dictionary (2013), slacktivism is defined as “actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement, e.g. signing an online petition or joining a campaign group on a social media website: such email alerts make slacktivism easy”.

The actions related to slacktivism are also associated with the ‘feel-good’ factor, meaning that advocating good causes in social media gives both social recognition among peers and also makes the slactivists feel better about themselves when they think they have done something good for the society.

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Organizations, such as UNICEF, have recognized the slacktivism phenomenon.  Even it is good to be known among people, and it is important to create awareness on global development topics, what is still vital is the real action — whatever that then might be in a particular case. An important question is how development organizations could share their message online so that their followers wouldn’t just engage in actions associated with slacktivism. How could people be motivated to move beyond  sharing and re-tweeting  links, and changing Facebook profile pictures according to the cause in question?  Many  development organizations are in great need of funding and the social media audience has a great potential for real effect if more people would contribute more in physical terms. What is often really needed is money, and  that is what for example UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders try to communicate in their recent videos  (below).

See UNICEF Sweden’s video “Likes don’t save lives”

Doctors Without Borders in Denmark has also an integrated advertising campaign that aims to raise the issue of slacktivism and the fact that ‘likes’ and good intentions don’t save the lives, but money does.

See Doctors Without Borders’ “Good Intentions” video

Many different opinions on the slactivism topic exist. Others argue that slactivism is dangerous because those people who could potentially be really having an impact, for example by making even small donations, might just like an organization’s Facebook page and then feel so good about that issue that they forget to actually act further. Other views on the whole topic, however, see slacktivism related activities better than no action at all. These people argue that slactivists are still having a some kind of an impact, even it is not measurable for example in money terms. Lievrouw (2011), for example,  states that in any case exposure to or reception of any kind of message either does or does not provoke action in itself. The author continues and argues that the new media does not just deliver content but makes people to be users and also influence them actively to do something, such as searching, sharing and  commenting on different topics. These are actions by definitions and they might well encourage new media users further to be more active and involved in both offline and online worlds.  The author also recognizes that it is indeed a shorter step from using to participation and action, than from reception to participation and action (Lievrouw, 2011).

What do you think? Share your thoughts below and tell us do you believe an average citizen has the power to change the world ‘with a mouse click’. What are the possibilities of social media for development and social change, when thinking about common people and their participation? How far does ‘a mouse click’ carry on? What are the limitations of participating in development work through social media? What should people actually do in order not to be categorized as slactivists?

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Photo source: spiritofrebellion

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Therese Sjödin October 15, 2013 at 7:30 am

This is so interesting Peppi! And I have actually missed the Unicef commercial, very complex message… I can still feel that sharing and slacktivism is better than nothing since it can create awareness and spread information about the organisation’s work and issues in the world that are otherwise neglected. And this knowledge can eventually maybe make people donate something.

For those who don’t have the economic possibility to donate money I guess volunteering would be an action avoiding the problems of slacktivism. Even so, it can be likely that the sharing and spreading of messages is the reason that some actually get to know the issue and choose to volunteer!

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Sofia Hafdell October 20, 2013 at 7:27 pm

I agree with Therese — this is a very complex topic and I also like to believe that posting and sharing online are better than not involving. At the very least, I think engaging as an active user of social media can be an extremely powerful tool when it comes to raising awareness and building consciousness in societies. This has proved especially useful in e.g. the Arab revolutions (2011) or protests in Turkey and Brazil (2013) where people mobilized online over a common cause and eventually took to the streets (examples of “mediated mobilization”, a concept discussed in Lievrouw (2011)). While there are probably many who would only go as far as “likes” on Facebook to contribute to a particular cause, I think that overall, it will becomes increasingly more difficult to ignore the fact that there are so much more we can — and are obliged to — do for other people. As a result of globalization and of that the world is becoming more intertwined, much because of new media technologies, this also relates to our moral responsibility. It should, and must relate to our responsibility to not only witness, for instance, suffering in the world, but to also do something to support helping and social change

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