Slacktivism: noun; “The act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem”. From Urban Dictionary.
With the advent of the Internet came an increase in the speed and ease with which we can access information. When social media started becoming a thing less than a decade ago, that fast and easy spread of information led to a phenomenon pejoratively known as “social media slacktivism.” I mentioned this in my viral campaigns post when I wrote about the HRC campaign last month.
Posting a rousing video on Facebook about Invisible Children and getting thousands of “likes” is great and all, but does it really translate into off-line activism? Social media actions don’t often challenge the status quo, and a majority of real political action takes place offline. So it sounds like social media doesn’t help.
That’s not true. The key to the Internet is information access. I said before that we can spread info faster and more easily. And how can you truly be an activist if you don’t know what you’re fighting for? Activists need some form of education, so it only makes sense that they should use social media. If I want to know about the state of marriage equality today, I may very well find that information plastered all over my newsfeed (it seems like a new state passes a marriage equality law each week. At this rate, maybe my homestate will sign one before I bite the dust…maybe.)
That all being said, beware not to mistake social media campaigns and education for real protest. Signing a petition on Change.org is a good first step, but activism that truly challenges the status quo is not for the faint of heart, and may not necessarily be found on your Tumblr dashboard. Fortunately, even the slightest amount of exposure can stick with a person, and for every few people who sign the petition, or use the HRC logo as their profile picture, there’s likely at least one person who starts getting involved offline.
For every pro, however, there’s a con, and the next issue is that it might be too easy to access information on the Web. And it’s certainly just as easy to provide false information (not that offline sources are perfect, either.) With Kony 2012, for example, the only debate I could see online was about the credibility of the information being provided. I still don’t even know what Kony 2012 was necessarily about. I would if I had bothered Googling it and reading some articles. So the next point: you can’t just expect all the right information to fall into your lap. Educating yourself does take some effort, even in such an age as our own.
In the end, social media activism is something that I and a fair number of my peers struggle with: Is it really enough to just read all the posts on our dashboards? How much should I donate? How many petitions do I need to sign to be considered an activist? What if I can’t really get involved offline?
Balancing the capabilities of social media with offline actions is a complex issue, but the simplest and most effective thing I’ve learned is this: social media makes education easier, so why not use it to educate yourself? If you see something about Invisible Children on your newsfeed, click on it, then look it up on Google. Spend a few minutes trying to learn about it before declaring yourself an activist. You don’t need to get out and save the world every day. And you certainly won’t save the world if you don’t understand it.
Education is action, too.