Slacktivism Fails to Deliver Revolution

This essay is AGAINST slacktivism (online activism); it received a score of 92%. Slacktivism is great for bringing awareness to causes, but it lacks in the change department.

The teenagers and young adults of the 21st century have taken their rebellion to the internet. Students, workers, parents, and others who may not have the time and resources to discuss and protest oppression can contribute to these revolts in the comforts of their own home at any time. However, this convenience can lead these activists to become too relaxed with the amount of effort they give toward a campaign; the activists slack. A contemporary term describes much online activism as slacktivism. Popular dictionary website, Dictionary.com, recently added this term, defining slacktivism as “actions taken to bring about political or social change but requiring only minimal commitment, effort, or risk” (“slacktivism”). Without people volunteering their physical presence at a protest, volunteer event, or other progressive movement, oppressors like CEOs, police, and government figures will not take the cause seriously and refuse to change. Online activism is not enough to bring social and political change on its own because these changes require an active endeavor to demonstrate how critical these goals mean to society. Slacktivism delays progress because its activists financially and publicly support an organization without verifying its legitimacy and hope someone else will make a difference.

One of the attributes of slacktivism is the negligence to check the validity of the campaign. Online activists can show great interest in a situation but never realize it is fake. According to the Newsday article “On the Net, ‘Slacktivism’ / Do-gooders flood in-boxes”, Monty Phan explains that students at the University of Northern Colorado “circulated by e-mail a petition… to protest government cutbacks in PBS, National Public Radio, and the arts”, and another version of the e-mail claimed “the American Cancer Society would donate 3 cents toward fighting the type of cancer from which one little girl was dying” for each person who forwarded the e-mail (Phan). The slacktivists did not consider that the society, already dedicated to allocating funds toward cancer research, had no way to track each forwarded e-mail. Phan notes that this contributed to a situation where “the organization’s workers must spend time answering questions about a phony e-mail rather than more important work” such as organizing fundraisers, something that actually provides funds to cancer patients instead of an e-mail dispersed by guilt (Phan). American Cancer Society spokesperson Joann Schellenback fears that people may “believe that forwarding an e-mail is a form of donation [and that] they won’t make legitimate donations. Or worse… they may conclude that the group is somehow behind it” which will threaten the reputation of the organization (Phan). Not only have slacktivists supported a false cause, they hindered the association’s efforts to organize funds for cancer research, which ironically is the opposite of what they wanted to happen with the e-mail. If those who forwarded the e-mail took the time to investigate the truth on a website such as Snopes.com, they would realize this is fraud and the American Cancer Society would not need to deal with the distraction.

Slacktivists often donate small increments of money or share support, but they expect other people to complete the active work of volunteering that awareness cannot bring. Some critical campaigns realize this blatant difference between slacktivism and effective activity; these organizations make a point to recognize and profess what they need- active involvement. Evgeny Morozov, who wrote “From Slacktivism to Activism” found in the Envision in Depth textbook, mentions “a 2007 pan-Arab initiative [known as Free Monem] to free an Egyptian blogger from jail” that specifically requests on social media they do not need financial charity but volunteer action (Morozov 404). The Belarusian researcher states this was not only to rescue the blogger but to “shame numerous local and international [non-governmental organizations] that like to raise money… without [having] any meaningful impact” and take advantage of the situation (Morozov 404). These organizations profit from the slacktivist culture willing to donate money and social media publicity to a campaign that seems legitimate and then forget about the matter, expecting someone from the organization to have a good purpose and use for the funds. In this scenario, neither the slacktivists nor the needy win; the slacktivists who may have as much excess money as they do time essentially throw away their money for an association that never sees a penny of it. Morozov considers this method “the opposite of synergy” where people “put much less effort into a task when other people are also doing it” because it is “impossible to evaluate individual contributions”; he coins the term “social loafing” to describe this phenomenon (Morozov 404). This mentality and strategy cannot bring success to social movements, let alone make significant progress. Without scrutiny, these slacktivists do not care to see their money go to good use; likewise, they do not care if the dispute resolves or ameliorates. It is easy not to be immersed in a movement when the activist is not the oppressed in question. The apathy hurts the evolution of the cause because all of the slacktivists assumed they gave everything they had to offer, and because they all abandon it, the cause remains stagnant. Activism is not a group project in high school; it is a method of change that requires extensive care, passion, and participation from all parties on the same team. If one does not take the time to care about others, how can they expect the kindness to spread and return to them in the future?

Although they mean well when they show support, slacktivists become too absorbed in the fulfillment of acting altruistic and neglect to contribute when the campaign needs it the most. It was mentioned that slacktivists give money during inappropriate times, but they can also indulge in the popular trend of support without caring to provide anything at all. Daniel Coffey of the Nevada Sagebrush, a University of Nevada, Reno publication, depicts a 2015 trend centered on an unfortunate 5 year old named Seth who was born without an immune system and needed a bone marrow transplant; Seth encouraged people on the internet to support him and his journey to find a match by wearing yellow (Coffey). Coffey assesses that “most people have ignored… they could text a telephone number to raise money for Seth. Wearing yellow… [and] raising attention doesn’t accomplish anything unless people” actively donate bone marrow to those whose lives depend on it (Coffey). It must be surprising for Seth to witness a large amount of people wearing yellow, just like he wished, but the simple gesture of wearing yellow does not advance the health of anyone. Seth’s yellow plead was a trend that rose then fell without much progress. Slacktivists did not take the time to check if their bone marrow matched a patient, and any foundations distributing resources to a cure for these patients saw a little to none rise in donations. Had these slacktivists exerted the same effort into donating bone marrow or money to research as they did for celebrating the color yellow, many patients without immune systems and similar diseases would be cured or on their way to good health. These activists spent too much time updating Snapchat stories and taking pictures of yellow articles to appease their online image using a mass movement to nowhere.

A champion in numerous social engagements is Change.org, a petition website that thrives on the one and done strategy of slacktivism. People from all walks of life gather at any time to support a petition by virtually signing it; this assembly agrees there is injustice and the injustice must be changed. The ultimate decision to follow the request of this group lies in the hands of a few, whether they are executives of a government, corporation, or bank. Teresa Tomassoni from National Public Radio reported in “Petitions Are Going Viral, Sometimes to Great Success” that Bank of America charged a monthly debit card fee of $5 in November 2011, but Molly Katchpole, a 22 year old nanny, “filed a petition… and within a month,  300,000 people had electronically signed the petition against the charges. The bank decided to drop its proposed new fee”, a major success for working class Americans who struggle to make ends meet (Tomassoni). Tomassoni also recounted another success of Change.org: the story of Emily Holcomb, a nonverbal autistic teenager who was charged a felony for slapping her teacher and rescued by a fellow autistic young adult, blogger Lydia Brown, who understood the charge was unfair because Holcomb did not have the capability of verbal communication, so Brown prepared a petition on Change.org with help from her friends and achieved 1,200 signatures that freed Holcomb (Tomassoni). Although Katchpole and Brown found success in their petitions, that does not serve justice for another family seeking to pay their bills who is hit hard by an unfair bank fee or another young adult who falls into the autism spectrum and faces punishment for expressing themselves through limited means. Unfortunately, it is not possible to fix the root of these problems, such as capitalism and ableism, respectively, through petition because these systems thrive on the beliefs and actions of common people. Many of these people grew up with these oppressive beliefs known as traditional values, so capitalism, ableism, racism, and sexism may live as long as these people are alive. A petition can advocate laws that help to alleviate these beliefs, but actions such as teaching the younger generation right from wrong, dedicating time to examine these problems and their respective organizations, and promoting the subject vocally can shape a society where these troubles are nonexistent because its inhabitants accept and understand these differences.

In order to prevent the effects of slacktivism, emphasize that revolution does not stop behind the screen. The idea that one is a bad person if they do not retweet or favorite a picture of a skinny, dirty child prepares the converse- one has saved the aforementioned child from their apparent starvation by sharing the picture. Change happens because people act upon problems in the world, but the kindle to the fire is awareness. YouTube Channel Thrash Lab acknowledges that slacktivism increases social consciousness and keeps vocal protestors safe (Thrash Lab). It is undeniable that slacktivism provides basic assistance for these matters by serving a general understanding to the public that something is wrong. However, a social, political, or financial matter will not be seen as important unless there are activists who dedicate ample time to progress it. Children’s literature writer Dr. Suess is credited at the end of the 2012 movie adaptation of his book, The Lorax, with the words “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not”, and every person on the Earth, especially slacktivists, should keep this wisdom in mind (The Lorax). If every slacktivist took their activism a step further to give a little more time to their causes by evaluating a charity before backing it, speak freely and educate their peers about public matters with verified information, and contributing money only when it is necessary, there would be much more development in every circumstance. Activism is all about taking the space one has and transforming it into an environment suitable for progress.

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