CC-by-sa & dilemma


We live in the age of social media. This means that lots of our conversations happen online through instant messaging, more people get their news from status updates and tweets than newspapers and we spend far too much time watching funny viral cat videos. Social media has revolutionised the way we receive and share information. Consequently the raised fist of activism has been replaced by the quick click of a Facebook like.

Slacktivism is a recent term that has emerged from combining the words slacker and activism. It refers to Actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement i.e a Facebook like. Using online platforms to campaign for social causes and issues is currently very popular amongst charities and social organisations since it has a wide reach and is a cost effective marketing solution.  

Recently we saw one of the biggest online activist campaigns sweep the world , Kony 2012. The campaign was led by the release of the ‘Kony 2012’ short film by US non-for-profit organisation, Invisible Children.  According to statistics more than 70 million people worldwide watched the video and the campaign successfully inspired a global movement that vowed to bring down Joseph Kony. If it weren’t for social media the campaign would have never gained the traction that it did since prior to the video Kony was almost unheard of, but in the days after the video’s release he was all anyone talked about. Unfortunately whilst Kony 2012 was extremely successful in raising awareness, the campaign only translated into some minimal activism, since people lost interest in the subject very quickly. 

Online activism has been critiqued as oversimplifying issues and giving the impression that things can be solved just by the tip of your fingers (literally). For example ‘Kony 2012’ gave everyday people the impression that simply capturing Kony would solve all of Uganda’s problems, when the reality was far more complex. These kind of campaigns lack meaningful engagement with people, and thus longevity and true emotional impact. Furthermore the could undervalue the role and importance of political participation within society. 

Also the intention behind slacktivism, in comparison to activism, may not be so pure. Ultimately when we share social media campaigns, even if we feel a genuine connection to the cause, on some level we are also seeking to boost our image within our social media circle. A study conducted by University of British Columbia suggested that people who pledge their support for charity publicly on social media, can be less likely to give a donation to that cause. Instead, slacktivism seems to only create a fleeting feel-good sentiment for the ‘slactivist’.

Of course online activism has its benefits. Since it is shared through social media, online activism has a much wider reach of people it can engage and empower. In that sense it is a useful tool to reach out to those who normally would not participate in any kind of activism. Also since online activism is shared by the people, it can make huge global issues seem more real, and viewers may be able to empathise with, and thus understand more, important global issues.

During the Arab Spring in 2011, citizens in the Middle East and North Africa held simultaneous protests against their oppressive government , and social media was hailed as one of the key factors in helping protestors coordinate rallies and demonstrations. Furthermore demonstrators were able to provide instant updates that could be viewed by other Twitter users, thereby stimulating global discussions about the uprisings. Journalist Courtney C Radsch discussed the role of slacktivists in the Arab Spring “Will it solve the problem directly? No, but will it help start a conversation? Yes”.

Online campaigns increase everyday people’s engagement with important issues and can inspire people to become more involved. Campaigns are basically seeking attention and hope that increased public awareness means that the government will see their issue as a greater priority. 

The market these days is saturated with social media campaigns and whilst there are a few that are truly meaningful, we are becoming desensitised to them. Furthermore a somewhat “social media” rat race is developing, where our awareness of certain issues is ultimately dependent on how good their social media/marketing budget is.  This kind of system is unfair and means that potentially important global issues are being overlooked both by the public and by governments. 

Overall I think there is still an important place for slacktivism in this modern society. It is important to understand that slacktivism has different goals to activism, and therefore will achieve different results. Online Activism  is very successful in raising awareness, and at the end of the day awareness is always the first step in any behavioural change. It is pretty much accepted these days that most campaigns require some form of social media presence in order to stay in touch with the public. However it is really important that we as a society are also acutely aware of the limits of Slacktivism, so that when we hear about an issue that really touches us, we are motivated to transform slactivism into activism through action.