Saving the World, One Click at a Time
You can easily spot the Slacktivist by the manner in which he scrolls past post after Facebook (or Tumblr, or Twitter, or Pinterest, or Reddit…) post with the characteristic sleep-deprived gaze filming his eyes. At any moment he is liable to pause, allowing his lower jaw and hand to drop in indignation at the atrocities of the world.
With the precision of a well-trained pseudo social activist, he reaches for the…left mouse button. He clicks ‘Share’ (or ‘reblog’, or ‘retweet’, or ‘repin’), adding his own comments, with the occasional caps lock for emphasis: “This is TERRIBLE, guys! We have to DO something about this! LIKE or SHARE to show your support for (so and so) cause!!!”
Some of his friends sigh as his post appears in their feeds. His family members cringe in embarrassment. Not again.
But there are those less well-informed who might ‘like’ his post. They might even add their own comments! “This makes me so angry! 😡 Thank you for sharing and opening up our minds!”
The Slacktivist sits back in his chair then, basking in the fleeting sense of satisfaction he gets from contributing something to society. Then he drops the topic and goes back to scrolling through his feed. The topic never comes up again. His job is done.
Of course, social media has propagated the idea that we can change the world with minimal personal effort on our part: One ‘like’ and some dodgy, obscure organisation will donate 5 cents on your behalf! Or a ‘share’ and, at the very least, awareness on the issue will be spread!
The culture of slacktivism has, of course, generated much harsh criticism from people of all ages for various reasons.
Take, for example, what is probably the most notorious online campaign to date: KONY 2012. It was launched as a viral video on March 5, 2012, documenting the war crimes of International Crime Court fugitive Joseph Kony, with the sole intent of “making Kony famous” in order to have him arrested by the end of the year. It reached 100 million views in six days, with 4 million people pledging their support for KONY 2012.
Critics have said that, among the many problems it presents, the campaign oversimplied a complex issue, unnecessarily glorified evil, and did little to inspire its participants to take any real action beyond liking and sharing. Its follow up campaign, Cover the Night, was a flop. It did manage to gather a crowd of less than 50 participants in Brisbane, which some say is underwhelming given its fame among Netizens.
In defense, slacktivists say: “I can’t do much, I’m just a student, but I can contribute this much,” in what is the very antithesis of the spirit of true activism.
After all, of all criticisms of slacktivism, that hoping to make any social change with little or no personal sacrifice is probably the most applicable to all cases. In ‘Small Change: The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted‘, Malcolm Gladwell argues with advocates of the trend who say that social networks increase motivation to bring about social changes.
“But that’s not true. Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires,” he says.
Johnny Chin, 22, points out that even the word ‘slacktivist’ is an oxymoron: you can’t be an activist and a slacker simultaneously.
“It’s hypocrisy, saying, ‘Guys, DO something!’ when you’re not doing anything yourself. Apart from raising awareness of an issue, there’s absolutely nothing to it,” he says.
So if it goes beyond mere awareness-raising, only then is it valuable?
“Of course,” he says. “If you really want to make a change, it’s crucial to walk the talk…and social media has made it far too easy to simply talk.”