Written By Philip Tran
Slacktivism. A paradoxical portmanteau comprised of two actions: slacking and being an activist. Slacktivism is defined as the practice of supporting a social, environmental, or political cause with little effort or commitment through the use of social media or other online platforms.
What does slacktivism look like exactly?
Well, on social media, it can be as simple as a retweet on Twitter or sharing a post on your Instagram story. With the recent fires in Australia, many of you may have seen the post below quite a few times on your feeds.
Slacktivism can also take the form of online petitions, such as the petition to halt the construction of the Trans-mountain pipeline in western Canada.
Who are they?
Slacktivists come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from your fellow classmates all the way to the biggest A-list Hollywood celebrities. Anyone can be a slacktivist, and that’s kind of the point of the whole thing. Slacktivism requires little effort and is easy to engage with. It’s certainly a lot less work than marching down a street with big signs and a megaphone.
What does it accomplish?
When successful, a slacktivism campaign achieves two things: raising awareness and starting a conversation.
Despite some of the negative opinions surrounding slacktivism, the one thing it can usually be counted on to accomplish is bringing awareness towards an issue. This is thanks to the juggernaut that is social media and the power of going viral. Some of the biggest viral movements from the past few years include #HeForShe, #BlackLivesMatter, and the ALS ice bucket challenge; the latter of which helped fund major breakthroughs in ALS research.
Going beyond just bringing awareness to an issue, slacktivism also has the ability to start real conversations around it as well. A recent example of this is when the Amazon Rain Forest was burning last summer. A lot of attention was brought to this issue through social media, and as a result, people started to question why it was happening. How was a rain forest on fire? Luckily, when people ask questions online, the internet sleuths are quick to find the answers. It was revealed that the fires were not caused naturally and were actually started by humans, either accidentally or on purpose. This is information that likely would have gone unnoticed had the issue not gone viral.
Where does it fall short?
Despite all the good that can come from them, there is a common denominator among most, if not all, slacktivism campaigns that make people question the validity of these movements: they don’t last. This is because the low-cost, low-commitment nature of slacktivism can often times desensitize people towards certain issues. They’ll retweet something, maybe throw in a comment or like here and there, then suddenly, they feel like they’ve “done their part”. Once everyone feels like they’ve contributed and the viral movement fades away, so does their empathy. It’s easier to scroll past something you’ve already seen five times.
Another shortcoming of slacktivism is that it makes it really easy to be hypocritical. Being a slacktivist requires very little effort, and as a result, those participating usually aren’t very passionate or devoted to the cause at hand. Kylie Jenner was recently criticized for this after making a post on her Instagram story about how the loss of animal life in Australia “breaks her heart”, then followed that with a post showcasing her Louis Vuitton slippers made from real mink fur.
When done right, slacktivism has the power to bring awareness towards issues that would otherwise be ignored and spark real conversations around them. However, slacktivism can sometimes do more harm than good when people blindly support causes without making an effort to actually learn about them. Slacktivism isn’t a perfect system; but it’s better than nothing. Ultimately, the goal of slacktivism should be to transition into real-world activism, and if last year’s climate strikes are any indication, we seem to be headed in the right direction.