Week 8: Slacktivism and Global Movements through Social Media

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.

4 thoughts on “Week 8: Slacktivism and Global Movements through Social Media

  1. d. o.

    Even those who contributed financially to the KONY 2012 campaign in the wake of the video going viral weren’t really doing much to help: Invisible Children (the non-profit that started the KONY 2012 campaign) spends more money on publicity campaigns than on actually striving to help the people they nominally want to protect.

    Plus, some of Invisible Children’s biggest donors were the Caster Family Foundation (which was also one of the biggest donors of the campaign in favor of Proposition 8) and the National Christian Foundation (a creationist organization), and a lot of the support Invisible Children receives is from the Christian right. I’d highly recommend the documentary “God Loves Uganda” about the searingly negative impact American Christian interventionism has had on pan-African society.

  2. fmanto

    I’m really glad you brought up KONY. I remember when that video went viral. I, too, watched it and was so filled with activism to want to help out. But later on I found out that the campaign and many of the facts presented in the original video were misleading, and there was a whole incident with that. I think online opportunities to build awareness is what the internet does best. Build Awareness. But slacktivism is really at the heart of it. Of course there are terrible things happening around the world, of course we want to help them. The real question is how willing are we to help them? The internet has given us some small level of satisfaction that we are doing social good in the world by sharing a video or donating money, but in the long run it essentially is not very impactful.

  3. frcarbonellm

    Like most everyone that uses social media, I too watched and fell for the KONY video when it was circulating. After reading your post I was left reflecting quite a bit on my own slacktivism. I have a twitter profile, but I don’t tweet often. However, I do scroll through twitter regularly to catch up on world news and to waste time if i’m being honest. A lot of the time, though I don’t write tweets myself, I will retweet posts that I read. Many of these posts involve the sharing of information like breaking new stories or campaigns seeking to find a wider audience. By hitting retweet on twitter posts regarding activism, does that make me a slacktivist? I would argue it does, but at the end of the day I justify it by telling myself that at least I shared some information that hopefully somebody will see.
    I enjoyed your post, thanks for sharing, – Felipe

  4. prisahdev

    KONY is a really good example to bring up in regards to activism. I, too, when it came out was really inspired and shared it on my wall with the message “I urge everyone to take the time to watch this”. I know some of my friends donated — but honestly thats the furthest I went.
    And once people and peers started finding out some of the facts were misleading, people stopped watching it and stopped paying attention to it and it phased out quickly.
    I think one of the problems that can be seen with bringing awareness to problems through the internet is also the public criticisms that will come along with it. With KONY for example, there were criticisms about it, and because it was so publicly spread, it took away a lot from their message.
    Because the internet is such a public space, I feel that activists have to take the time to really analyze whether that is the best platform for them. Of course it brings awareness and it is easier to collect support, but how much does this support really help and take action in the cause, rather than just sharing?

Leave a Reply