What Is Slacktivism?
The internet has been a breeding ground for a new phenomena– slacktivism (sometimes slactivism)–a combination of slacker and activism. According to the Urban Dictionary, slacktivism is “the act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem.” Wikipedia takes it a step further by saying slacktivism is “considered a pejorative term that describes ‘feel-good’ measures” and that it has “little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction.”
Changing an Avatar for a Cause
While email has been a festering habitat for the “please forward this to all your friends” slacktivism, the slacktivism on Facebook and Twitter usually takes the form of adding color or text to one’s avatar, or replacing the avatar. On Facebook it also takes the form of the ubiquitous “copy and past this to your Facebook profile for an hour/day if you want to help so-and-so cause.” But does changing an avatar or posting various causes for an hour or a day do any real good or are we just making ourselves feel better?
Copy & Paste Facebook Profile Messages
Frequently the “copy and paste this to your profile” posts are outdated, incomplete, or even hoaxes such as the “Send a Christmas card addressed ‘To a Soldier’ to Walter Reed'” which circulates every year via email and Facebook. Sometimes they are “just for fun” like posting a drink or the color of your bra to support breast cancer awareness or some other cause.
More recently, microblogging sites like Twitter, which use # Hashtags to earmark posts by topics, have given rise to Hashtag Activism. The hashtag mark # is placed in front of a term like #BringBackOurGirls which is supposed to somehow help 300 Nigerian girls be rescued.
Proponents of adding colors and text to avatars and posting the various circulating copy-and-pastes to Facebook profiles say just posting a drink, color, bra color or changing the avatar raises awareness for the various causes. Does this really help raise awareness, start meaningful conversations and encourage donations and volunteerism? Really?
Cartoon Avatars to Help Kids
A recent incident found many Facebookers changing their avatars to cartoon figures which was somehow supposed to help victims of child porn and violence. On my own Facebook page, I posted:
If you really want to help kids and protect them from porn, find a legitimate child welfare organization and make a donation, volunteer at a children’s agency, educate people about child pornography and/or violence against children.
Avatars for Recruiting & Dialogue
Several replied to my post saying raising awareness to any cause begins with recruiting participators and starting dialogue and that the cartoon avatars raise awareness. However, as I searched the home page for dialog about child porn and child violence, I didn’t find any except for the occasional post suggesting friends change their avatars to cartoons to help victims of child porn and violence. What help did child victims receive from the cartoon avatars? Was anyone really moved more by the plight of endangered children than they were before? Did changing avatars to cartoons make a difference, or did it just make us feel good about doing nothing?
On other occasions people have changed the color of their avatars to green in support of people fighting for democracy in Iran, added “We are Nashville” to Facebook and Twitter avatars, and added various ribbons and legends in support of different causes. As someone who lived through the Nashville flood which prompted the “We Are Nashville” banners and who has worked for various child services agencies, I can tell you it is nice to know we are thought of, but much nicer to receive assistance in the form of physical help and donations.
The Problem with Slacktivism
In my own discussions about this issue on Facebook, the common responses are “It raises awareness,” “it is just for fun” and “it does no harm,” but slacktivism DOES do harm. By definition, slacktivism is the act of replacing real action with something quick, easy and fun that makes us feel good. If we lull ourselves into the mentality of “Hey, I just helped breast cancer victims by posting the color of my bra to Facebook” or “I have helped raise awareness for endangered children by posting Astro Boy as my avatar,” we are not only fooling ourselves, but we may feel LESS likely to take a real action because we think we already did something.
Post Something Meaningful
I suggest next time someone asks us to post a cartoon to help children, we instead post something meaningful like the name of a great child assistance agency, or we bypass the cartoon and go straight to the meaningful discussion. Better yet, volunteer or send a donation. Perhaps the next time the message should read, “Change your avatar to a cartoon AFTER you have volunteered, donated, started a meaningful discussion or done something to educate people about child violence and child porn.”
Slacktivism Without Works
The Bible teaches its followers that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Much like faith, slacktivism without works is worthless.