(Sl)activism – Progress or Stagnation?

Johannes Kast reflects on the meaning of slacktivism in the context of social progress.

The compensation effect” or “moral self-Licensing” is what psychologists call the ‘ethical credit’ people often reward themselves when having done a good deed. This might be as a result to signing a petition, buying eco-friendly products or doing any other perceived good deed. Further research shows that often times good behaviour now can quickly result in bad behaviour later. Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong found out that people generally act less altruistic and are more likely to steel or cheat after purchasing green products. Anna C. Merritt, Daniel A. Effron and Benoît Monin came to a similar conclusion in their paper: “Moral Self-Licensing: When Being Good Frees Us to Be Bad”.

Slacktivism essentially means engaging in or supporting activism with a minimal amount of effort. This for itself is certainly a welcoming trend, as sharing information creates awareness and giving ethical choices to people with little to no added effort makes them more likely to engage in them. A recent example is the Amazon smile campaign, where part of the price is donated to a pre-selected organisation of your choice. However, when Amazon is taking the burden of charity from the supporter the effect might be bad for aid organisations while very profitable for Amazon. The same was found about liking an organisation on Facebook. It turns out that liking an organisation might actually mean giving them less.

A different form of slacktivism are online petitions. By lending your voice to a cause, you are empowering a representative to go out and do the work for you. However everyone can make a petition about everything and not every campaign is actually sensible or effective. If however it is compelling and achievable, gather great numbers of support, have committed people behind it and finally gather media attention, online petitions can be quite successful. On the other hand blindly signing petitions can, aside from actually achieving little, also mean falling for a scam and giving up valuable personal information.

So what does slacktivism mean for social progress? Does it mean an increase in numbers, but a decrease in sincerity? Can it also inspire us to get away from the screen and become directly engaged? Or are we bombarded with so many causes that nothing really sticks and we end up making uninformed decisions? The internet and the ways we can share, interact and dissect important political, ethical and sociological issues is a tremendous tool, however what does it mean if real activism and effort are being replaced in the digital age? Is it possible to get the best out of both worlds?

1 comment

  1. Kristina Körnung

    Very interesting topic! Certainly, so-called slacktivism can change raise awareness like never before, but what happens afterwards? What Shirky calls “bumper-sticker sentiments” could in fact be damaging if not connected to real-world action. Paradoxly, Aday et al (in Blogs and Bullets) actually proposes the idea that “new media could make citizens more passive, by leading them to confuse online rhetoric with substantial political action, diverting their attention away from productive activities” (p9) – perfectly stated in the video as online activism actually are ineffective as it lessens real life political participation. You need a commitment to politics, to see that political engagement actually leads to change. Change requires perseverance, but in an ever changing world, is there really the stamina that is required? This slacktivism could really in the end just be about you disengaging yourself from the “end result” – what happens after the click, where is the responsibility in the end?