Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Slacktivism: just how bad is it?

Last week, UNICEF posted a video on their YouTube channel that addresses one of the themes that has come up during our blog discussion: slacktivism.

As others have discussed, the Internet fosters a culture that addresses problems through minimal effort. This phenomenon includes:

...signing Internet petitions, joining a community organization without contributing to the organization's efforts, copying and pasting of social network statuses or messages or altering one's personal data or avatar on social network services. (Wikipedia)

The UNICEF video is designed to address slacktivism through a short, emotionally-loaded narrative from 10-year-old Rahim in a nameless third-world country. Their message is, "Likes don't save lives. Money does." In other words, if you care enough about an issue to like it on Facebook, you should at least donate money to it.

Ironically, this video will be liked, upvoted, and shared through social media. It does nothing but raise awareness and spread a message. Is this video a hypocritical form of slacktivism? Instead of spending their money on producing videos, should they focus their efforts solely on helping children?

I don't think so.

It's extremely important to raise awareness about issues. Even doing the bare minimum by spreading the word helps raise awareness by a little bit. Even if a person doesn't physically contribute, they may spark the interest of someone who will donate their money and time.

Let's face it: we're all occupied with our own lives. Many of us simply don't have time to go out and solve our world's problems. If that makes you feel guilty, then find a cause to donate time and/or money to. There are plenty of people who have devoted their lives to causes we're interested in. It's their job—help them do it. Yes, you'll still be on your butt in front of a computer screen, but you're still doing something.

Ultimately, the problem lies in public's perception of contribution and a general lack of critical thinking. This results in many users believing in a Facebook fairy who donates money based on how many likes a post has.

I think the first step in solving such a problem lies in education (*cough* Postman *cough*). There are far too many digitally illiterate users who spend hours on Facebook everyday. Fixing the problem is a different story—one that I'm not equipped to answer at this point in time.

So what do you think about slacktivism? Do you think it's all bad? Are there good forms of slacktivism? How does it affect public discourse online?


  1. You make great points. I think that slacktivism, while not really a good way to help people, is better than nothing. I think that a person who shares something on Facebook is not doing it instead of something more involved, they're doing it instead of doing nothing.

  2. I think that slacktivism, like Amanda said, is better than nothing. I feel that if people are signing petitions, sharing videos/pages/etc that they are at least getting the word out about something they have a passion for or feel is important.

    I think it shows the power of the internet to connect people and make them aware of topics or organizations that they may never have otherwise heard about. Sure, not everyone will do anything more than share the link via social media, but it is being spread for others to take note of. That in itself is I'm sure appreciated by those organizations - they want to be in the minds of people. That way someone will see what they do and among all of those shares there may be someone who sees it and really does get involved.

    So I don't think it's all bad, but I think people need to just be more informed for an impact to really be made. If the discourse online was about the organization or campaign and what they're working toward - rather than just "like this" - it would change the way we see communities being built for these sources online.

  3. I think the biggest issue with the internet no one talks about is that it works best when combined with other forms of media. I think that slacktivism can be more helpful than people give it credit for...when combined with something like print or television.

    Too much of anything is a bad thing, and I think that if someone puts all their charity into "liking" things on the internet, then yeah, that's not great.

    BUT if someone combines the spreading of an internet video with printed articles and television stories, it becomes much, much more effective.

  4. The general premise is something I can agree with. Slacktivism isn't much of an issue, but it still has its faults. I see where spreading the word brings about a general concern, and yes, that's just dandy. Drawing attention to that specific problem is exactly what we need. It's the fact that slacktivism only promotes attention, and not action.

    The best way I can think of slacktivism helping is just getting out general knowledge to people who will utilize it. Six degrees of internet separation will surely kick in.

  5. I agree with Amanda P, I think it's better than nothing. It definitely raises awareness for certain issues and even though hitting the "like" or share button doesn't save lives or magically give money to the cause it could get around to someone who will act on it. Perhaps it will make you want to learn more about the issue. Sometimes it seems like I live under a rock so when people post things on Facebook about different things that might be the first I've heard of it, but because of the friend that just liked it or whatever I now at least know something about the issue and can act on it if I choose.

    The only real problem I see with slacktivism is that sometimes people do not understand that 200,000 likes on unicef's page really does not make as much of a difference as the might think it does. We are, however, perpetuating a mood of impotence and indifference with certain technologies though. At least the internet is interactive. You can probably use a computer to donate or spread the word. Television all you can do is watch.

  6. I don't think that slacktivism is necessarily all bad. I think that things such as Facebook petitions and things like that helps get the word out about certain issues that need more attention paid to them. While "liking" a certain thing on Facebook will probably not help any cause directly, I think that it helps spread the word that there are problems out there that people need to be aware of and that there are people who need help. Slacktivism appears as the way to get the ball rolling on certain issues that need more attention. I also agree with Kaleah and think that people who are liking things such as Unicef's page will probably not do anything major for this cause, but people probably think it will.

  7. I can definitely see both sides on this. On one hand, liking UNICEF on facebook doesn't help any of the children or families that the organization strives to support. On the other hand, it may cause facebook to insert that like into one of your friends' news feeds, causing them to become aware of the organization, and spreading the word IS important. The more people know about a cause, the more people can contribute to it. So, while I have a bit of contempt for the people who convince themselves that they are making a difference in the world by liking every video that TOMS shoes puts up, I acknowledge the importance of publicity to an organization that runs off of contributions from the public.

    All in all, I would say that there is only an issue surrounding slacktivism because of one, the people who are fooled into thinking they are helping when they aren't, and two, everyone assuming that if you like something, it means you should contribute. Even before facebook, I'm sure there were still millions of people who believed in charities but didn't contribute to them. Those just happen to be the people who partake in "slacktivism" now. One question I think maybe we should ask ourselves is why are they being targeted instead of just everyone who doesn't contribute?

  8. This is definitely an interesting term, slacktivism. I mean I’ve never heard of such a thing, though I have been a part of it. Like Amanda first stated, at least slacktivism is better than nothing in the fact that information is getting around. Being aware is the first step in getting anything done I believe. That being said, I don’t think that all slacktivism is bad. Like I and many have said at least the information is getting out there. But at the same time if everyone would be reduced to this (or a large majority), just signing internet petitions or copying things into their statuses, then that could be a problem and the efforts of whatever the cause would be wouldn't keep moving forward.

    As for public discourse online, I think it creates further discussion over not only the topic, but the person who posted the message or status say on Facebook or Twitter. As if that is bad or good, that would depend on the people in the discussion.