Within the last few years, there has been a surge in the prominence of social activism. Fueled mainly by the increased use of social media, there is now a quick and easy way to spread opinions and awareness. And if you haven’t noticed, when fire gets posted on Facebook, it spreads – and it spreads fast.
Remember KONY 2012? I couldn’t go a day without seeing that video shared on Facebook by multiple different people. Then, as fast it started, it was gone.
Campaigns like this encourage activism by asking the public to spread awareness. What’s the easiest way to tell your friends about something? Social media. Because of this, people get sucked into the thought that sharing a video on Facebook will contribute to the movement and end the problem.
And that’s where things can go wrong. When all a campaign can do is stir discussion on social media, there really isn’t activism happening. In fact, there is no action happening at all. The word activism has the word “act” in it, and when everyone “acts” by sharing something online, that’s all that will happen. If there is no powerful movement that disrupts the peace, then there is no solution to the problem.
This happens so often that it has been named “slacktivism.” Slacktivism, as defined by the ever-so-wonderful Wikipedia, is “usually considered a pejorative term that describes ‘feel-good’ measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little physical or practical effect, other than to make the person doing it feel satisfied that they have contributed.”
The main point to take from that long definition is that fact that these movements cause the slacktivists to have a positive feeling due to the thought that they contributed to a social movement that needs support. However, as stated, little physical or practical effects can be observed by doing this.
That raises the question: does spreading awareness lead to more political strength for a movement? I say no. Campaigns whose initial act of support is done more privately (for example, writing to a member of Congress) are more likely to engage in deeper, more significant forms of engagement later on. Those whose initial support is public (i.e. through posting to Facebook or Twitter) are less likely to engage more deeply.
Let’s use the ALS Ice Bucket challenge as another example. Although this campaign seemed to promote slacktivism, it ended up raising over $100 million for ALS research. The campaign accomplished this because people realized that doing the ice bucket challenge was a way to AVOID donating money. This implies that donating money to a good cause is something bad, and people should dump ice water on their heads instead of donating.
This can’t be said for all campaigns. A more relevant example would be the hash tag #BlackLivesMatter. This is an extremely important movement that has a great slogan: “This is not a moment, but a movement.” However, after navigating their website for a few minutes, I failed to find any information on how to support the movement. Hence, supporters would then regress to posting on social media with a hash tag.
If campaigns are unable to disrupt society and create manic, then there will be no change. It’s like that crazy guy screaming about the Bible in front of the library. Sure, a couple of people will stop and argue, but the majority of us just walk by as if he wasn’t even there. The reason the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge worked was due to the bombardment of videos on social media – mainly Instagram. When I couldn’t scroll through my feed without seeing at lease three of these videos, there was no other choice but to educate myself about the issue and see if I could help.
Currently, there are more social activism movements happening than ever before. There are many ways to help fight for what’s right or give support where support is needed. The next time you post something on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, think about whether you’re actually contributing to the movement. Spreading awareness is great, but that can only take you so far.
Ben takes his Facebook activity seriously, but not as seriously as his activism