As social, political and environmental injustices seem increasingly prevalent, it can be difficult to handle feelings of powerlessness. But is “slacktivism” the best way to combat the unfairness we see around us? Though well-meaning, slacktivists tend to perpetuate social cycles of complacency and dishonesty which are ultimately detrimental to visible and meaningful progress.
“Slacktivism” refers to the ways in which the average person can use the internet in order to support a social or political cause at a minimal cost. Slacktivists can share articles by activist groups, or document their participation in an advocacy event or public demonstration on social media.
Advocacy groups largely endorse this public phenomenon under the logic that increased awareness by any means about an issue or cause is inherently a valuable contribution.
These minor forms of activism have other parallels in social movements. Many scientists and other vocal climate change activists have criticized the “go green” movement, under the argument that widespread dedication to minor efforts to combat climate change prevents more meaningful progress in the fight against global warming.
Rather than volunteering time with local government efforts to forward climate-friendly policies or protesting harmful projects, “green” Americans pat themselves on the back for regularly recycling, or even taking public transportation instead of driving themselves. Of course the average person may not have the economic, social, or even physical capabilities beyond using the internet to participates in a particular cause. Slacktivist critiques focus specifically on people who can do more but choose to do the bare minimum.
The argument against slacktivism is that people perceive minor efforts such as “liking” or posting to be a meaningful way of addressing social ills than they really are. The consequences of this phenomena are a drastic decrease in any incentive to participate more actively in order to address issues of injustice in the real world.
Another devastating byproduct of social media activism presents itself in the online profiles of slacktivists who can advertise a disproportionate display of concern about or involvement in a social cause. As is the nature of social media, account users can purposefully manipulate online profiles to create a false image of themselves.
It then becomes easy for concerned liberals to utilize their social concerns to create an online persona of someone who is more politically active and literate than may be true.
Since Trump’s election, heated public demonstrations against the nationwide racism, xenophobic policy and misogyny enshrined in his election have taken place all across the country, and continue to do so. Thus, there have been ample opportunities for protesters and concerned citizens to exploit these situations in order to contribute to an online persona.
Compulsive posting about participation in protests or service projects suggests a greater concern with letting others know that you are involved in social justice causes than it reflects a profound concern about the subject matter.
Again, this strain of slacktivism creates a false sense of accomplishment in the form of an Instagram photo or Facebook post rather than an immersive and educational experience in service of a greater cause.
Using activism for aesthetic purpose has a direct relationship to privilege, especially in a time when activism, which challenges racism and xenophobia, become increasingly contentious. It is privilege in and of itself to understand the subject matter of contemporary protests such as mass incarceration, police brutality, or blatant Islamophobia as discourse and not a lived experience .
Concern with maintaining a certain social media persona can pose a threat to deeper understanding of the larger issues that motivate protest, and in fact speaks volumes about one’s actual concern regarding social justice for oppressed groups.
Slacktivism also poses a specific threat to the liberal circles in which it can run rampant. Excessive article-sharing and online discussion about social justice issues within concerned moderates, and even enraged liberal circles, has the harmful effect of creating a more deeply entrenched thought bubble.
As the world becomes increasingly technological, it is imperative that people remember that injustices play out in the real world, and that meaningful actions in challenging injustice takes place there, too.
Keep posting, sharing and liking; but by all means do not stop there. However you choose to move forward in effort to create a more fair and just world, consider what actions are productive, and decide how you can use your unique capabilities to contribute to a cause that matters to you.