The Power of Slacktivism as a Tool to Self-Educate

Is our digital engagement in social causes really worth the title of being a real activist? Maybe not always, but one should not underestimate the power of Slacktivism as a powerful tool to raise awareness that can lead to valued self-education.

We live in a digital age, where our ability to access information and create content never has been easier. Technology has also expanded our social circles, by our frequent use of social media, where geographically distant people have become our virtual neighbors. One can even say that we have never been so informed and engaged about global issues as of today, if you are assuming the number of likes and comments digital media is generating daily. We are somehow like a digital pool of virtual activists, with our constant sharing, posting and liking of media.

However, it is exactly here the criticism comes in, questioning if our effortless digital engagement really is worth the title of being a real activist, when offline participation is minor or completely lacking. This criticism has particularly been directed towards today’s youth, which are the prime users of technology.

The term slacktivism has been coined to define the expressed willingness to engage in a relatively costless, representation of support for a social cause, accompanied by a lack of readiness to devote significant effort to achieve meaningful change (Kristofferson & White, 2013).

The Sideswipe of Online Activism

As a direct criticism of the trending engagement of slacktivism, as well as part of a smart marketing ploy, the Swedish division of Unicef launched an online advertising  campaign in 2013 called “Likes Don’t Save Lives”. The campaign highlights the absurdness of people’s so called blind faith in likes, to raise money for vaccines, urging people that hitting the like button is not enough effort in  order to cause real change.

One cannot argue against Unicef that donations or volunteering are more useful than accumulated likes on social media platforms when it comes to the mission of vaccinating children, but one should not neglect the fact that digital activism takes on various forms with various missions.

Some digital activist campaigns are simply having the objective to raise awareness of issues that leads to valued self-education, where online participation is more effective and efficient than offline participation.

The Virtue Lies in The Message

The power lies in the ability to absorb and to perpetuate information, which is an undertaking that digital media many times is best suited for. It is noted that a piece of media that is shared publicly not only provides expressed support, but also underlines a specific point of view for others to explore and analyze (Lane & Dal, 2017).

The Black Lives Matter Campaign, which is raising awareness of the systematic and targeted demise of black lives, in the cause to affirm Black people’s valued contributions to our society, is one example where likes and sharing of the campaign’s messages can work as a tool to self-educate the public to bring the central issue of racism in to the spot-light. Although the campaign is depending on volunteers and donations, spreading the message of this campaign has real impact, and works to raise awareness of the issue of racism, while at the same time motivates people to resist injustice.

One should also not neglect the fact that the larger the group who is engaged in a cause, the more attention will be brought to the issue, which can help to amplify offline participants visibility. By this, it is unjust to totally neglect the act of liking, sharing, and composing of online messages, by calling it a lack of real effort that leads to any meaningful change.

Deception of Information

Instead, the greatest constraint of online activism is not that people are lacking offline participation, but the potential spread of misinformation, which can mislead the public.

Knowingly, new media is offering unique opportunities for expression and communication, especially among activists, who have found it to be a modest tool to challenge the offerings of mainstream popular culture (Lievrouw, 2011). The downside of new media’s accessibility for creating and sharing messages, is that is done in an uncontrollable fashion, which can lead to the spread of information that might not be properly researched, and by that leading to deception.

In the end it comes down to the fact that the impact of slacktivism as a catalyst for change is not as easily measured as donations and volunteering, which leaves the conclusion of its impact open for assumptions.

Works Cited

Kristofferson, K., & White, K. P. (2013, 11 06). The Nature of Slacktivism: How the Social Observability of an Initial Act of Token Support Affects Subsequent Prosocial Action. Retrieved from Journal of Consumer Research.

Lane, D. S., & Dal, C. S. (2017). Sharing Beyond Slacktivism: The Effect of Socially Observable Prosocial Media Sharing on Subsequent Offline Helping Behavior. Retrieved from Information Communication and Society.

Lievrouw, L. (2011). Alternative and Activist New Media. Oxford: Polity Press.

Featured Image: Anna Vallgårda/Flickr

5 thoughts on “The Power of Slacktivism as a Tool to Self-Educate”

  1. The blogg design
    “The essence of slacktivism is the sensation that you’ve accomplished something of political impact when you’ve done nothing” don’t you think that what most of us want actually? Make the change without actually do anything.
    That’s why many people actually instead of donating 1$, they will put a like or sign a petition, its free, does not take time and make the person feels that they are active !!!
    Everything is virtual

    1. Hi Ali,

      Thanks for your reply.

      It is true that most of us are not ready to take so called ‘real action’ like donating for a cause or protesting on the street against injustice, but this was even true before the digital era.

      In my opinion, the criticism of slacktivism is not always justified, as digital activist campaigns take on various forms with various missions. I believe slacktivism can be powerful when it comes to raising awareness of a social issue like racism and discrimination, but maybe less so for problems in the Global South, where real activism on the ground is needed as well as funds in order to be able to do so, like the case of vaccinating children.

  2. Hi Lou,

    Thanks for your interesting post. I agree with you to a large extent about the value of online engagement, such as liking and sharing items on social media as a way of educating and spreading the message of a cause or social movement. What you wrote fed into what I was reading in Zeynep Tufekci’s book ‘Twitter and Tear Gas’ where she claims that most activists begin by being exposed to dissident ideas and that social media (and the sphere of what may be called ‘slacktivism’) is a very common or effective place for this to happen. This certainly makes sense to me, from a personal perspective, although I would not call myself an activist, my engagement with social movements and donating to social causes have almost always begun with information which I have acquired on social media sites. A contact sharing a story for example. This ‘share’ or my ‘like’ may well be classed as slacktivism by some, but often it has resulted in me researching the issue more critically and on several occasions it has led to me donating money to a cause. I am quite critical of the concept of slacktivism as a derogatory term for ‘light’ online engagement, it seems to completely ignore the fact that the initial engagement which may just be a like on Facebook, can start so much more and could enable a message to reach so much wider an audience than would otherwise be possible.

    1. Hi Lou and Penelope,
      I certainly agree. And after witnessing the tsunami of stories and backers within the #metoo-campaign I will not use the term “slacktivsm” lightly again. It has made the prime minister of Sweden speak about it. Several ministers who are women have come forward and said #metoo.

      So many women coming forward makes it impossible not to see (even if some will never even try to see it) the structural problems behind it. And only by posting a simple #metoo without any detailed story has helped to raise awareness and should never be called slactivism. This campaign and each and every #metoo-post may have contributed to a man not harassing a woman next time. Or a woman to speak up, expose and press charges next time she is harassed.

      /Frida

  3. Hello Penelope and Frida

    Thank you both for your comments, and I am glad that you agree with my view that slacktivism is not always justified the harsh criticism it sometimes gets, something that you are backing up by examples from your own valued experience.

    I believe that the strongest opponents of slacktivism have failed to acknowledge the fact that it has a unique power to draw attention to social issues that in other ways would not have been possible, and the MeToo initiative is a good and current example of where online engagement has worked to amplify offline participants visibility, as well as provided valued expressed support for women’s rights issues.

    Its critics are also failing to acknowledge that our times has changed, and it would be wrong to expect our era’s youth, which has been brought up in a digital world, to engage in social issues the same way as older generations.

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