The notion of adolescence and childhood has been in a progressing state of blurriness due to the rising Digital Native population and the concept of technology functioning as a necessary part of young adult’s everyday lives. Shah and Abraham discuss in Digital Natives with a Cause? how this generation of individuals has the potential to cultivate a new wave of activists who can be empowered through technology to develop new movements to change the world. Engaging with local knowledge within the context of one’s community while actively appropriating global paradigms into these digital campaigns creates a beautiful balance between local and global perspectives. However, to assume this generation of individuals truly understands, appreciates, and appropriates their power is definitely stretching our faith and trust in this group of young people.
Popularized by turmoil in the Middle East and the Arab Spring, the term ‘slacktivism,’ is the notion that the individuals who are updating social media about relevant news happenings aren’t actually the individuals directly participating in the action or the movement. It is a kind of “bandwagon” effect, where these users believe they are helping the cause by using digital resources to update their followers, but the extent of their physical assistance to the cause my reap little to no benefit. In a way, it represents a false sense of confidence and is considered taking the easy way out when we are referring to notions of hard campaigning and protesting. However, the beauty of social media is that if one person tweets about a news event, pop culture reference or global issue, someone is likely to see it and respond, or at least make a mental note and be more conscious and aware as a result. Social media represents a highly visible, digital platform for all the world to see, digest and respond to.
One of my personal favorite examples of slacktivism and as Shah and Abraham coin “e-activism,” is the Kony Campaign of 2012.
The video has collected over 100 million views, as of today, and was one of the first success stories of digital activism in our modern era, besides the grass-roots social media campaign for Obama in 2008. Participants and users of all ages contributed to the cause by just sharing the YouTube link on their profile pages. At the time, it seemed like everyone involved was actively helping to capture Kony and solve the problem at hand, while the reality is that frankly they weren’t contributing directly to the cause. Some may argue that by sharing the video, it created awareness and lead to donations, which is true, but when you boil it down to the actions, simply sharing a YouTube video doesn’t help to capture the enemy. We must consider the extent of involvement individuals play in online activism.