Social Media Slactivism
Does the Internet and social media decrease activism and increase slactivism? Is this movement to social media platforms decreasing the impact that people have on political movements?
- As the use of the Internet has increased, people have found a new platform to carry on a variety of interests virtually. With practical uses like education, communication, and entertainment, the Internet has become a tool that most people use in their daily lives. People have discovered that they can go to the web and use this platform to communicate, moving the conversation from the real world to the virtual world. This movement has played a role in evolving activism into slactavisim, where users can advocate for a cause or issue via social media sites and do not have to personally go anywhere but to a computer or mobile device. This word is a combination of "slacker" and "activism," insinuating that this form of outreach is for people who want to avoid a lot of work and effort. If less work and effort is being put forth to advocate for a cause via social media, then slactavism alone is ineffective compared to activism in creating change.
- When searching to discover what slactivism is, finding an unbiased definition is difficult. As stated in the below Wikipedia entry, slactavism is "'feel-good' measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel some amount of satisfaction." This definition attacks slactivism for being ineffective and relatively useless in creating change. Because Wikipedia entries can be created and edited by anyone on the Internet, readers can deduce that this particular entry was written by someone who does not believe that slactivism is an equal substitution for activism. People partaking in slactivism are putting in a minimal amount of personal effort, and therefore, these efforts are not substantive enough to be equivalent. The author admits to this being an assumption that has not been proven through research, but he or she adds cited articles to the end that support the same viewpoint.
- This definition of slactivism, however, is narrow-minded in that it neglects to commend social media activism on its ability to garner attention. According to Sarah Kessler in the below article, creating change through social media was still in its infancy in 2010 (when Malcolm Gladwell criticized its ability for actual change) and could not be accurately judged for its effectivity. Kessler cites Shawn Ahmed's use of social media to create videos for his "Uncultured Project" as an instance where activism via the web was successful. Viewers of these videos are often inspired to pitch in and help the people that they see. After more than 140,000 people watched "The Boy Who Lived," a video about a Bangladeshi school that was destroyed in a cyclone, many people sent money to help rebuild it. "Before the donations, the village only had enough money to replace the roof of the school. With the donations, Ahmed was able to help them rebuild the school, buy supplies for fishermen, provide assistance to single mothers, and build a well," said Kessler. While rebuilding the school and providing other assistance may not seem like much on the global scale, it is a success that would not have been possible if Ahmed was not about to reach people in North America from Bangladesh. Social media gave Ahmed the reach he needed to achieve his goal, and if people continue to find ways to utilize social media, its ability to reach around the world will be even more beneficial in the future.
- In the following Tumblr post, the author discusses why the term and idea of slactivism is wrong. This Tumblr user was labeled a slactivist after posting about Indigenous People's Remembrance Day instead of Thanksgiving Day, causing him or her to rebuttle with this post. While being called a slactivist was not ideal, the author took issue with the very idea that a term such as slactivist even exists. The two reasons presented in this post are that "slactivism insinuates that there is a correct way to be politically or socially active" and "slactivism is a privileged term." Under the first point, the author talks about how social media activism does not allow people to actually partake in the movement, but social media does allow a 16 year old person on his or her computer to be educated about the situation. This person learns about it and then tells someone else who didn't know, and it becomes a chain of people who would otherwise not have known about the movement and are now joined together to stay updated on the topic. The author believes that this awareness of the issue is, in fact, activism, and that there should not be a correct way to be an activist in the first place. In the author's second point, he or she discusses that those people who label others as slactivists have an idea of activism as something that is privileged. Normal people do not have the money or ability to partake in activism without the possibility of it causing backlash on themselves or their families. This fact goes back to Hinckley's idea that having an online pseudonym allows people to be open and honest about their beliefs without other people knowing who they are. Even this Tumblr account is run by someone using a pseudonym, which is not surprising because the account was created to ridicule Fox News. In real life, there are no pseudonyms to protect a person and his or her family, making activism difficult for people who need to consider what damage their personal views could have. The author believes that because of these reasons, social media activism has become a necessity for some and should not be something that they are condemned for because they are at least doing something.
- On January 18, 2012, hundreds of websites banded together to protest the SOPA and PIPA bills that were going through Congress at the time. Wikipedia, Google, and Twitter were among the sites leading the charge, reaching impressive amounts of people online. More than 162 million people saw Wikipedia's blackout page, more than seven million users signed the Google petition opposing the bills, and twitter users sent about 3.9 million SOPA-related tweets. These protests did not require people to go out of their way to be supportive. Signing a petition, sending a tweet, and visiting a blackout page all fall safely into the category of slactivism, but in this case, the support was enough to make a difference. In a report the next day, the bills were not completely dead, but they both lost major support and co-sponsorships. Senators and representatives saw the uproar that had been created on the Internet, and in a need to protect their future careers, knew that it would be unwise to go against the desires of their constituents. If not for social media and websites, such widespread people would not have been able to band together so quickly and send a definitive message that they did not support the bills.
- Kony 2012 was a social media movement that happened practically over night. A video created by the charity Invisible Children hit the web, creating a large social media buzz among people who were not previously educated on the situation in Africa. The video called for people to bring awareness to the crimes of Joseph Kony, the Ugandan leader of the violent, child-recruiting Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Invisible Children hoped that by creating this video, people would learn about the situation and want to something to change it. The video was successful in reaching a large group of people (#StopKony trended worldwide on Twitter for days and the video "Kony2012" had millions of views, including 32 million in 20 hours alone), but the activism stopped there. As days went by, criticism of the Kony 2012 movement and Invisible Children grew, and people began to use the tools that they were using to learn about the movement to identify its weaknesses and faults. As quickly as people had joined the movement, they were discovering that they didn't want to be anymore. Between realizing that social media would do nothing to capture this Ugandan leader or realizing that stopping this one leader would not be enough to stop the crimes happening in Uganda, people were abandoning the movement in realization that this was not a fight that could be won over the Internet.
- While the SOPA/PIPA movement was successful, the lack of success in Kony 2012 left people skeptical of social media movements. When the issue of equal marriage rights came up this week, people took to social media platforms to criticize and show the humor in the effectiveness of using these sites to instigate change. It is easy to change your profile picture or tweet about your personal viewpoints when social media is overflowing with people doing the same thing, but some people are skeptical that others are so easily swept into the next social media movement that comes along and the lack of actual change that results because of that. Social media users were frustrated that their sites were again being taken over by a movement, and they had no desire to participate in the newest fad.
- On the other hand, some people argued that joining in on the social media activism is simply not enough. Posts ridiculed people for doing something so trivial as just changing their profile picture and others challenged people to stand up and voice their opinions in a real-world environment. The people who felt the most strongly about the issue felt that bringing the movement to social media was belittling it and that people who wanted to see real change needed to actually go out and speak their opinions to make a difference. Ironically, these people used social media to tell their friends and followers that they did not believe that the social media tactics were effective or sufficient, showing that they too thought that social media had enough reach to get their message out.
- A facebook friend of mine posts their views on the whole "Changing profile pictures" thing. "I was going to hold my tongue but it's bugging me. To all of you changing your profile picture to that stupid red block with an equal sign. What is this going to do? How does this help gay rights? Remember when everyone wanted to stop SOPA and put censors on their profile pictures? What did that do? Nothing. What about when everyone made duplicate accounts and "backup" accounts because there was a while when people where getting ban? What did that do? Nothing. Changing your profile picture does nothing to support LGBT rights. You have a voice. If you want to support LGBT rights, get laws passed, get off the computer voice your opinion in a way that matters. This picture does nothing. Done ranting. Thanks for your time."
- Social media activism has also played a large role in political elections. President Obama owes a great deal of his success in the election to his ability to reach people through Twitter and Facebook. By the end of the campaign, Obama had 22.7 million followers and 32.2 million likes, compared to Romney’s 1.8 million followers and 12.1 million likes. Social media gives people the opportunity to influence their friends and followers to believe a certain way. A Pew study found that 66 percent of adults using Twitter and Facebook during the 2012 election cycle did so in part to conduct civil and political activity. Another study by researcher Lab42 showed that 51% of people using social media posted political content and 36% changed their opinions on a candidate based on information they learned on Facebook or Twitter. These studies show that social media is actually an effective tool in political campaigns to reach potential voters, and most of this influence can be attributed to the flexibility that social media activism has. As the world has increasingly moved away from traditional norms, it would follow that activism would begin to move in a nontraditional route. Social media activism can be adapted to fit into any lifestyle and gives anyone with Internet access an even playing field to join a movement.
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